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'What Still Resonates Is That Voice'

February 28, 2024 12:15 IST

'How many voices from that time have stood the test of time?'
'There have been RJs before him and after him, but no one has enjoyed his popularity and longevity.'

IMAGE: Ameen Sayani. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ameen Sayani/Facebook

On February 20, the voice that had captivated generations turned silent forever.

Legendary radio host Ameen Sayani, at the age of 91, finally bid his behno aur bhaiyo alvida.

He reportedly lent his voice to 54,000 radio programmes and 19,000 jingles, but it was his hit parade on Radio Ceylon, Binanca Geetmala, that made him a household name in India.

Speaking to Senior Contributor, Roshmila Bhattacharya, Joy Roy, legendary film-maker Bimal Roy's son, remembers the man whose voice he heard for the first time in a classroom and then recording a show with Sarita Sethi for HMV where he worked then.

Describing HMV Ke Sitare as delightful tea parties, Joy remembers, "I feel privileged to have interacted with this gentleman who embodied the grace and graciousness of the world he and my father belonged to."


Behano aur bhaiyo...

IMAGE: Ameen Sayani, Ashok Kumar Kumar and Pran. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ameen Sayani/Facebook

Even though Baba (producer-director Bimal Roy) was working in the Hindi film industry, he had a very eclectic taste in music and would bring back albums from the different countries he travelled to.

So, when I was around six or seven years old, I was listening to Fairuz, the equivalent of Lata Mangeshkar in Lebanon, and one of the most celebrated Arab singers of the 20th century.

Even my sisters grew up on Western music, like Nat King Cole.

Rather surprising for a filmi family, but there was really no Hindi film music at home, apart from the 78 RPMs, scratch records for want of a better word, with unobtrusive, handwritten, white labels identifying them as songs from Baba's films.

My introduction to Hindi film music happened quite by chance when I was in school, Bombay Scottish, in Mumbai.

Most afternoons, songs playing in a neighbouring house would waff across the wall into our classroom.

One of my classmates, Anup Kataria, was a die-hard Bollywood film buff and a walking encyclopedia.

He caught every new release on the first weekend itself and would identify the songs for me as he hummed along.

I don't know if it was his famous Radio Ceylon hit parade, Binaca Geetmala, but that's when I first heard Ameen Sayani's famous voice and his distinctive catchphrase, 'Behno aur bhaiyo...'

A job offer from HMV

IMAGE: Joy Bimal Roy. Photograph: Kind courtesy Joy Bimal Roy/Instagram

When I was 27, I joined Shyam Benegal and assisted him for three years.

At 30, I was back to doing nothing, much to the dismay of my brother-in-law, Pradeep Sinha, for whom work was worship.

It was at his place in Kolkata that I met Pradeep Chanda, the head honcho of the music retailing giant HMV (now Sa RE Ga Ma).

Shortly thereafter, my brother-in-law called to happily inform me that I had been offered a job at HMV.

I laughed it off, which upset him, and my mute guru too.

Mauni Baba wrote, 'Tumhari ghadi bandh ho gayi hai (Time has stopped for you),' and insisted I take up the offer, if only for a year.

That's how I joined HMV in 1990, as artist and repertoire manager.

From listening to and loving music, I was plunged into a whole new world of dealing in and selling professional Hindi music.

I surprised everyone, including myself, by staying on for five years despite my casual Hawaiian print shirts and my unpunctuality.

Delightful tea parties in the studio

IMAGE: Farooque Shaikh with Ameen Sayani. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ameen Sayani/Facebook

It was at the HMV office at Ferozeshah Mehta Road that I met the man behind the voice I had heard in school.

HMV had tied up with Sarita Sethi and Ameen Sayani for a radio programme, HMV Ke Sitare.

The duo would chat about just released film songs which were then played on the show.

It was a scripted programme, but they would meet in my room, which just happened to be the largest room.

They would discuss between themselves before going into the small studio which was in the office itself, adding impromptu flourishes during the recordings.

I was not privy to their conversations, but I sat through the recordings which were like delightful tea parties.

They would banter over cups of tea, and after they left, the recordist would punch in the songs to intersperse their chats.

Charmed by Ameen Sayani

IMAGE: Ameen Sayani with Amitabh Bachchan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ameen Sayani/Facebook

By then HMV's monopoly over Bollywood had been broken by emerging music labels like T-Series, Tips and Venus who lured away the big film producers, even those who had been loyal for decades, with tempting advances over the royalties we offered.

Our once overflowing kitty of songs was drying up.

But these two veterans ensured that HMV's Ke Sitare sparkled bright.

Apart from his famous voice, I was charmed by Ameen Sayani's ready smile, his twinkling eyes and his genial personality.

He came from a world where everyone was always spruced up.

For that matter, Sarita Sethi dresses very tastefully.

Watching them together remained a pleasant interlude for me, from a time when the whole music scene was changing.

But despite the growing focus on commerce, they never recorded more than one episode at a time which remained delightful tea parties.

Setting a benchmark in communication

IMAGE: Manna Dey with Ameen Sayani. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ameen Sayani/Facebook

What can I say about a man who was the forerunner of all radio jockeys that hasn't been said already?

Ameen Sayani left us when he was 91, yet so many people from different generations remember him today.

That's amazing at a time when the visual medium rules and faces are more relevant than voices.

I would say it's because he set a benchmark in communication that remains unparalleled.

To capitalise on a voice which he himself didn't think was extraordinary, turn it into a career and make such an impact with it is some achievement!

He created a niche for himself that was unique.

How many voices from that time have stood the test of time?

There have been RJs before him, and after him, but no one has enjoyed his popularity and longevity.

I feel privileged to have interacted with this gentleman, who embodied the grace and graciousness of the world he and my father belonged to, even if it was for a very short time.

I believe your past shapes the person you become, so I consider it my good fortune that I was around people who were such an inspiration in their disciple and dedication.

It couldn't have been easy reaching out to people with just your voice, day after day, knowing they couldn't see you, couldn't even conjure an image of you.

Yet, he did it successfully for decades and today, no one associates that voice with anyone other than Ameen Sayani.

After leaving HMV, I moved to television and Home TV, and never got another opportunity to work with these legends again.

I meet Sarita Sethi off and on as she is a member of Otter's Club (Bandra, north west Mumbai) too.

I bumped into Ameen Sayani a few times at social gatherings like the wedding of (Madan Mohan's son, former senior HMV manager, later Yash Raj Films CEO) Sanjeev Kohli's son.

Those meetings are just a blur.

What still resonates is that voice... his master's voice.