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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Aamir, Nasir, Tahir, Tariq, Mansoor, Amjad: Movies, Masti, Modernity, Flashback 10: Aamir

Aamir, Nasir, Tahir, Tariq, Mansoor, Amjad: Movies, Masti, Modernity, Flashback 10: Aamir

To remind you, Aamir is indeed Aamir Khan, Amjad is definitely Gabbar Singh, and the triple M above is to acknowledge that it was Akshay Manwani’s biographical book on the cinema of Nasir Hussain that got me delving into the period of about 15 years, when I interacted with the Hussain Khans (first five) and the bare Khan (last, but the most imposing personality). Actually, Mansoor did not use his middle name, so he can be called a ‘Khan’ too! Tahir stands for Nasir’s (younger) brother, Tahir Hussain.

Nasir Hussain (1931-2002) was already on my favourites list much before I met him. Now, the story of my interactions with him is picked-up from the last paragraph of Flashback No. 9.

“It had been a good six-seven minutes since Amjad had trudged along the raised platform, and his legs were about to give way. Boldly, he found a way out of the predicament, “Siraj, I cannot stand here any longer. Why don’t you give me the award yourself and let me go, please.” I pulled back a tear and took the microphone from Pooja Bedi, “No Amjadbhai, I will not do the honours, but this pretty young lady will. Pooja Bedi will hand over the Best Villain trophy to Amjad Khan.” She was given the trophy, tip-toed to where Amjad was standing, he accepted it with a wry smile, and was helped off-stage, to thunderous applause. Not too long after, Amjad Khan died, at age 52.”

A whole twenty-five years have elapsed since that year, 1992, and Aamir Khan is now 52, enjoying richly deserved success. Towards the end of 1992 and in early 1993, I had occasions to meet him and have long chats. He had a whiz-kid secretary, who was computer techie. (Yes, PCs had arrived in Mumbai by then), who sat in a small cabin inside his father Tahir Hussain’s Bandra office. I had to meet him and get appointments fixed. IT took a while, as, not for the first time or the last, Aamir was off the press. Press those days meant press, or radio, or, rarely TV. Radio and TV were still state monopolies (Zee was on zee way, just round the corner), though both now broadcast advertisements, sponsored programmes and TV series. I needed him to judge a reality show for radio (yes, radio) and give men an interview for a Gujarati magazine called Rooperi, where I was on the Editorial Board.

Close-Up Sangeet Muqabla was a 15-minute weekly radio singing show where pre-recorded solos and duets were judged by eminent film and music personalities. Interviews with the participants and the judges, spots promoting the toothpaste, quiz contest, and anchoring were added later. I wrote the script and anchored the show, along with a co-host to balance the gender equation. It was this programme that gave the first boost to careers of singers like Shaan (Shantanu Mukherjee), Saud Khan, Sanjeevani and Kunal Ganjawala. Men competed with men, women with women and mixed duets with mixed duets. For its 100th programme, my producer asked whether I could get Aamir Khan as the Judge. Remember, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was running to packed houses in 1992-93.

I was given three appointments, and all were honoured. Once I caught him at an editing suite, where he was editing some film (he often sat and sits at edits). When I was announced, my heart skipped a beat. Would he suspend his ban, on all media interaction, for me? He confirmed that the visitor was indeed this Siraj Syed, and then sent for me. We had a rewarding tête-a-tête. The other occasion was when he was shooting for a film called Time Machine at Famous Studios Mahalaxmi (the film was not completed), under the direction of Shekhar Kapur. He was playing pranks on a freeloader struggler who had made his way in and wanted Aamir’s help in getting a break as an actor. Aamir advised him to go up to Shekhar and say exactly what he should not have been saying to a man like Shekhar Kapur. But I digress. Our interaction continued.

Meanwhile, when my teenager niece, Salma, an ardent Aamir fan, heard that I had been meeting Aamir Khan, and was going to meet him for a third time the following week, at Ketnav Dubbing and Preview theatre, she insisted on getting invited, and took out her best dress. Naturally, there was some trepidation in my heart. Aamir, though off the press, had given me three appointments in a month and spent some quite some time discussing stuff. I still needed a fourth appointment at Film City to have him hand-over the prize to the jackpot winner. He was known to be a private person. So, wasn’t I pushing my luck too far in taking along a smitten fan, who would surely ask to be autographed and photographed with him?

Aamir was sweet as sugar. He obliged with both the autograph and photograph and made sure she got a vantage place to sit, being well looked-after for the whole two hours we must have spent there. Soon afterwards, my producer and I went to Film City for the prize-giving ceremony, and he was courtesy personified there too. Needless to say, episode No. 100 of CUSM had radio sets rocking all over India. The series completed 150 episodes, after which I was to anchor Close-Up Antakshari. Sadly, both the Rooperi assignment and Antakshari proved con-jobs, with the key personnel having no ethics and morality, which are rare commodities in the media industry, in any case.

During our frequent meetings, I had the temerity to tell Aamir that I had not quite liked him in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, and that the merits of the film lay with its music and Juhi Chawla. Not only did he take this piece of criticism sportingly, he agreed with me in toto. “I was indeed awkward in QSQT, and Juhi was really good. The music was great too,” he concurred.

1996 took me to Singapore, to launch and work for ESPN’s Hindi service, and did not meet Aamir for a long time afterwards. On a visit in early 2001, I was told by my brother, late Riaz, that he was to write the promotional radio scripts for the advertising campaign for Lagaan, to be produced and voiced by Ameen Sayani, with whom BhaiSaahab was the Chief Copywriter. They were to have a brainstorming meeting late in the evening at Aamir’s new office in Khar, and I could join. I did. Lagaan was, by then, in its post-production stage.

Aamir had fond memories of the by now fast getting effete format of weekly or bi-weekly 15-minute radio sponsored programmes, which highlighted the songs and dialogue of the film, without giving too much away. This had been a popular matrix since about 1951-52, and AmeenSaahab had produced thousands of programmes, since 1956 (61 years ago?!), including Yaadon Ki Baarat, Bobby, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Sholay, Hum Kiseese Kum Naheen and Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai. AmeenSaahab told him, “Bete (son) Aamir, those spots and sponsored programmes have been all but phased out. I will make what are now called Chitralok spots, longish 3-5 minute capsules, that will give glimpses of the story and dialogue, the stars and the songs. It works quite well.”

“O.K, AmeenSaahab. But I would have very much liked to make those legendary 15-minute kinds of radio programmes to promote Lagaan. I literally grew up on them.”

My brother wrote a few thousand of them, I penned a few hundred. I know how it feels to see those weekly extended trailers become things of the past. Incidentally, Lagaan’s spots were among the best work of AmeenSaahab at that time. They were written by Riaz, who passed away in 2007.

So ends the summation of snippets related to the Khans who I had repeated occasions to interact with: Aamir, Nasir, Tahir, Tariq, Mansoor, Amjad, chronicles inspired by Akshay Manwani’s biography-filmography of Nasir Hussain, released last year. Collecting my memories and posting them on the Internet was really nostalgic and heart-tugging for me. Hope they made interesting reading for you.

This marks the final instalment of my Flashback series, posted in ten parts.

Flashbacks 1-9 can be accessed on this site.

Do leave comments.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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