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regular-article-logo Thursday, 25 April 2024

The intoner of the original, and silky, ‘Behnon-Bhaaiyon!’, Ameen Sayani passes away

The face of Indian radio, the man whose silken and soothing voice spelt comfort as well as charm and charisma for millions of listeners over more than four decades, and the icon whose time on radio gave generations a window into the world of entertainment when there was nothing else

Priyanka Roy  Published 22.02.24, 05:26 AM
Ameen Sayani

Ameen Sayani Sourced by the Telegraph

The familiar line immortalised in Lata Mangeshkar and Bhupinder’s voices in the song Naam gum jayega from Kinara could well have been written by the legendary Gulzar for another legend — Ameen Sayani.

The face of Indian radio, the man whose silken and soothing voice spelt comfort as well as charm and charisma for millions of listeners over more than four decades, and the icon whose time on radio gave generations a window into the world of entertainment when there was nothing else. Sayani passed away on Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 91.

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Namaskar behnon aur bhaaiyon, main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon, aur aap sunn rahein hain Binaca Geetmala!” That voice that everyone waited for every Wednesday night meant different things to different people and yet united every listener in the emotions they felt for it. For many, it was their first tryst with freedom, with the strict parents of that generation consenting to give their children a rare opportunity to listen to Hindi film songs. For others, it was the balm at the end of a long, tiring day. For some in the throes of first love, it became a way to express their feelings indirectly. In the process, everyone fell in love with Ameen Sayani and his voice.

Sayani may have been synonymous with Binaca Geetmala (broadcast on Radio Ceylon and many years later on Vividh Bharati) but his impact and influence went far beyond that. “He was the first of the icons and the last of the Mohicans. Indian radio would not have existed had it not been for Ameen Sayani,” radio personality Mir Afsar Ali, who had the opportunity to interact with Sayani, told The Telegraph on Wednesday.

Rhythmic, rich and riveting, Sayani had a unique conversational style which made him personal. He used language which was accessible and informative. In an interview when asked what made him hit upon the idea of keeping things light at a time when radio presenters were largely serious, Sayani said: “I wanted each listener to feel that I was talking to them and it immediately struck a chord. Surprisingly, it revolutionised radio presentation.”

Sayani’s ability to seamlessly weave commentary with music, meshed with humour and many an interesting anecdote, made him cut through the clutter. His voice came with the guarantee of both warmth and wit and made his listeners feel that it was one which could be trusted and taken comfort in.

Even as Sayani’s popularity grew — every famous face wanted to be on his show, making him the David Letterman/ Larry King of Indian radio — he ensured that Binaca Geetmala never lost its essence. The brand name may have changed a few times, finally settling on Cibaca, but Sayani’s golden voice unfailingly drew listeners week after week. “Any lover of Hindi film songs at that time would be a fan of Binaca Geetmala and I was no exception. His voice spelt undiluted nostalgia,” filmmaker Srijit Mukherji told The Telegraph.

As a voiceover artiste, Sayani holds the record for hosting and compering over 54,000 radio programmes. He also has his name in the Limca Book of Records for his contribution to approximately 19,000 jingles as a voiceover artiste. The numbers are staggering, but none of it would hold any merit if Sayani was just another radio host/ presenter. “As a boy of 10 or 12, I was so hooked to his voice that I changed all the toothpaste brands in my house to Binaca and Cibaca because I wanted to listen to this man and be loyal to him. Such was his influence,” shared Mir.

With the ability to connect deeply with his listeners, Sayani’s voice cut across divides and through generations and meant more than just Geetmala. For Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien, Sayani was the voice of the Bournvita Quiz Contest, a show that the former successfully hosted on television many years later. “We had thousands of guests on the Bournvita Quiz Contest, but I can say with utmost honesty that Ameen Sayani was the most special guest,” O’Brien, who shared a series of pictures clicked with Sayani in September last year on social media, told this newspaper.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt had accompanied O’Brien to Sayani’s house that day. “When I broke the news of his passing, Bhatt saab thanked me for introducing him to a man like Ameen Sayani,” he added.

Sayani’s magnetic voice was matched by his affable nature. “He was a thorough gentleman. I grew up listening to his voice and when I met him, I was taken in by his gentle and genuine personality,” recounted renowned danseuse Tanusree Shankar on Wednesday. She remembered the time when Sayani, who was in the same batch of Scindia School’s Old Boys Association as her late husband Ananda Shankar, flew down to Calcutta when the latter passed away. “He loved Ananda’s The River and after his passing, he did a special show on radio and also spoke about him in Calcutta. He became a brother to me,” she said.

Cricket presenter Harsha Bhogle remembered how as a young boy, Sayani lent him precious time many decades ago, emerging as a hero of sorts for a 17-year-old Harsha. “Binaca Geetmala was a huge part of my childhood but meeting Ameen Sayani and experiencing his kindness towards a kid was even bigger. He was one of my heroes. For the broadcaster he was and then, for the person he was,” Bhogle wrote.

For many, including Shankar, Sayani’s voice spelt magic. “You could close your eyes and listen to him. It worked so impactfully in attracting listeners of all kinds to radio. His passing truly is the end of an era.”

A voice silenced, but one that will always linger on the airwaves. And beyond.

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