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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. 



Ameen Sayani and the film Geetmala: Standing tall

Ameen Sayani and the film Geetmala: Standing tall

"Every stage singer is a mimic,” said Ameen Sayani ‘clone’ Sagar Sayani to me, in the green room, “and imitates legendary film song singers, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle or Geeta Dutt. So what’s wrong if I imitate the compère, the very man who introduced us to these original singers, on radio and on stage, for 65 years?” Lead singer and ad-libber Gaurav Bangia shared with us that a food-stall in suburban Mumbai has been playing ads in the voice of an Ameen Sayani mimic for decades. Ameen Saahab himself joked, “Sudesh Bhosle (in the audience) is such a good mimic that had he taken to imitating me, I would have been out of work long ago.” Truth is, there was, and is, only one Ameen Sayani--constantly imitated by three generations of compères and radio voices, and yet standing tall above them all.

Among the fans of this most famous of what is today loosely called a Radio Jockey (RJ), is a lady called Minakshi Khosla, part of the family of the acclaimed film producer-director, late Raj Khosla. She, and show organiser Mayoor Shah, strung together a live Geetmala (beaded string/garland of songs; named after the weekly, one-hour, hit-parade that decorated air-waves in India, SriLanka and many other parts of Asia and Africa for over 41 years), and staged it at the Nehru Centre Auditorium in Central Mumbai on Saturday, 04 February.

Featuring Gaurav Bangia, Radha (36-year-old daughter of Hridaynath Mangeshkar, and gifted as expected) and Amroota NNatu as the singing triumvirate, with Hridaynath Mangeshkar (the only brother among the family that has given us Lata, Asha, Usha and Meena), Anandji (surviving brother of the celebrated music composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji and AmeenSaahab’s friend/contemporary), Sudesh Bhosle (singer and mimic) and Kuldeep Singh (music composer, also the musical backbone of Indian People’s Theatre Association) as the luminaries in the audience.

Hridaynath did the honours of felicitating Mr. Sayani and handing over the citation plaque, Sudesh obliged with a few songs, while Hridaynath and Anandji restricted themselves to singing praise of the man. Compèring the event was easy-going RJ Gaurav Shrivastava. A big surprise for us all was an audio message by 88 year-old Lata, played on the occasion to a stunned audience of music-buffs.

At 84, AmeenSaahab is not in the best of physical shape. Who is? But he ruled the world of Hindi film music appreciation during days when there was no TV, and nobody had heard of mobile phones. Looks and physical fitness did not matter at all, so long as it was 8 p.m. and the announcer on duty at Radio Ceylon (SriLanka Broadcasting Corporation)’s Colombo studios confirmed that it was indeed 8 p.m., so it was time for Binaca Geetmala.

Millions of listeners, among them a budding musician called Laxmikant (-Pyarelal), remained glued for the next one hour, when the top 16 songs of the week were played, with characteristic and magnetic lead-ins and lead-outs, and very, very interesting answers to listeners’ queries, then sent to him at a Post Box number in Bombay. Like all-time-great Laxmikant (left us in 1998) confessed in a clip from the thousands of hours of recordings carefully archived by Mrs. Rama Sayani (now no more) and Rajil (their son, who takes care of his Dad’s matters, for many years now): “We (L-P) became music directors purely because we wanted se the day when our songs were played in the prestigious Binaca Geetmala.”

Of the 100,000+ sponsored programmes and spots that Mr. Sayani produced/lent his voice to, from 1950 to 2016, Binaca (later renamed Cibaca Geetmala, following the change in name of the toothpastes brand that it promoted), Geetmala was closest to his heart. A retinue of some 100 writers, sometimes 10 of them working concurrently, helped him shape every commercial recording with nuggets of wisdom and humour, poetry and twist of phrase. But when it came to Binaca, he took very little help from any of his pen-pushers.

My brother, late Riaz, his Chief Copywriter (d. 2007) wrote a few thousand of the spots and sponsored programmes he recorded. Not a prolific writer, I was honoured when AmeenSaahab asked me to write a few of the last Cibaca Sangeetmalas (the second name change; its last run was on All India Radio’s Vividh Bharati service, as a shortened, half-hour show). Doing Public Relations for the Television version of the show in the 90s was another privilege, though, sadly, the show did not run for too long.

But it is as a radio voice and a stage compère that I have learnt the most from him, from 1970 till date—an unbelievable 47 years. He gave me my first major break in the sponsored radio programmes to promote the film Bobby (1973-74), and a few hundred more since (I still do some work for him). He also introduced me as an 18-year-old co-compère in half-a-dozen shows, sharing the Master of Ceremonies (MC)’ duties, with me, on twin microphones.

There was so much he wanted to share that Saturday night, but even after a sixty minute extension, the four-hour show allowed him all of just 20 minutes. The audience wanted more of his autobiographical anecdotes, in his own voice, which was not to be. This loss was partly compensated by the glowing tributes paid by more than 20 film and music personalities, projected on the video screen, between songs. And the hundreds of images of varying hues that flashed across, capturing him from the age of 7-8, till 70-80.

Once he admonished me for sounding like him during the recording of the first Bobby episode, I have made conscious efforts not to sound anything like him. As a result, clones filled in the vacuum, when somebody was looking for him and he was either unavailable or unwilling to accept those assignments, while I, the reluctant disciple, would refuse to imitate his ustaad to get work. It was only at his 80th birthday celebration that his family and a few close family friends asked me to do an Ameen Sayani in front of a select, live audience. I just had to do it, albeit with high anxiety. After all, this was the first, and most likely the only time, I would be seeing him walk-in to a hall on my announcements, and, then, would continue to address him and the others, as ‘Ameen Sayani would’, interspersing the trade-mark household phrase, “Behno aor Bhaiyo” (sisters and brothers).

Sudesh Bhosle, Anandji, Minakshi Khosla, Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Ameen Sayani

Conceived by Lotus Leaf Entertainment, the event was sponsored by Global Punjabi Association, Central Bank of India and Monarch.

May God give AmeenSaahab good health, and may he be around forever.

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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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