Remembering Ameen Sayani: The sole gateway to pop culture for 70s teens

Guest Column: Archana Kapoor, founder of Radio Mewat & The Radio Festival, remembers how Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala wasn't just a source of music but a steadfast companion for listeners

by Archana Kapoor
Published - February 21, 2024
4 minutes To Read
Remembering Ameen Sayani: The sole gateway to pop culture for 70s teens

I never met Ameen Sayani. I did not hear his voice in years. But the news of his passing away has left a vacuum. A silence. The fact that he is not around anymore feels like a personal loss. There is also a regret: in the seven years of The Radio Festival (TRF), I could not get him to Delhi even once. I tried every year. I thought of him while planning each edition. We hosted several quiz shows around his work and his association with radio. But never had him present with us to join us in celebrating radio.

Despite my inability to have him in person at TRF, I sought to honour his legacy in another way. I approached the AIR regarding the possibility of featuring an installation dedicated solely to Binaca Geetmala during the second edition of TRF in 2019. Unfortunately, I was informed that they did not possess the copyright to the programme. Just a week ago, we gathered to celebrate a monumental milestone, 100 years of Radio, at TRF held at the India International Centre. It was my fervent hope to see luminaries from the industry, including the legendary Ameen Sayani, grace the panel discussions. During my research, I stumbled upon a post featuring a fellow radio practitioner alongside Ameen Sayani Saab. I promptly reached out to him. However, he informed me that Ameen Saab's health was not optimal. While he expressed willingness to attempt to secure an audio or video message from him, he cautioned that anything beyond that would be impossible. This year that marked 100 years of radio, the process of finalizing panels was very painful with the realization that all the voices I had grown up with were either no more or very frail…from Ameen Sayani to Devaki Nandan Pandey, Melville de Mellow, Ramanuj Prasad Singh, Jasdev Singh, and more. 

And then, with the passing away of Sayani Saab it feels as though an entire era of radio presentation and programming innovation, marked by a perfect blend of youthful energy and modernity, has drawn to a close. Sayani Saab was intertwined with my teenage years. It was through his iconic programme, Binaca Geetmala, that I found my gateway to popular culture. Sayani wasn't just a voice; he was a trailblazer, a rebel, challenging norms by launching the programme on Radio Ceylon amidst restrictions on playing Hindi songs. His popularity forced Akashvani to allow Hindi songs to be aired on Radio. His vision transcended mere entertainment, reshaping language from formal Urdu or Hindi to the accessible Hindustani that resonated with millions.

On the evenings when Binaca Geetmala aired, my family would hasten through dinner, eagerly gathering around the radio. I recall a particular family trip to Meerut, where cousins huddled together, with fingers crossed, anticipating the announcement of the Song No. 1 on the countdown. We bet on "khilona jaan kar mujhko" from Sanjeev Kumar's Khilona, and when the cherished tune graced the airwaves, jubilation ensued. For an entire generation, Sayani's show wasn't just a source of music; it was a steadfast companion, it was an event that families celebrated together.

Yet, it wasn't solely the songs that captivated audiences; it was Sayani's evocative narration, his resonant baritone weaving tales that transported listeners into the studio with him. We were enraptured by his voice and the eloquence of his words, a legacy that endures as an institution for modern-day radio personalities, guiding them in language, voice modulation, and storytelling.

With his passing, a chapter closes, and my memories of youth flood back as I pen this tribute. Perhaps the most fitting homage to Sayani would be to reignite the splendour, pride, and allure of radio—an art form that he so passionately championed throughout his illustrious career. Clearly the Srinagar Edition of The Radio Festival will be dedicated to none other than the one and only Ameen Sayani!!