Ameen Sayani
81, Radio Broadcaster

Ameen-SayaniIt was entirely due to my elder brother Hamid that I entered the field of radio broadcasting. A constant inspiration, he was the one who took me to the All India Radio studio, in Mumbai, when I was eight, and showed me how to record my voice. He helped me hone my skills and become an adept broadcaster in English. Going into Hindi, of course, was another matter.

I studied in a Gujarati school and only learnt Hindustani because my mother, a pupil of Gandhiji, was asked by him to maintain a journal in three scripts: Devanagari, Gujarati and Urdu. I used to help her and became adept at writing in the Devanagari script. My speech still had a lot of Gujarati and English in it. It took me quite some time to brush my tongue, get the Gujarati away, get the English away from my Hindi and the Hindi away from my English.

My success was firstly because I was trained by a magnificent broadcaster such as Hamid. Secondly, due to my family’s involvement with the national movement, I was fired with patriotic zeal post-Independence. I wanted to broadcast in Hindi and was given a chance by Radio Ceylon. The language I used was easy and simple because I didn’t know any difficult words, thereby making it easier for people to connect to me.

I could speak to crores of people, but each listener would feel like I am speaking to them personally. Nowadays, the speed at which radio jockeys speak, sometimes I can’t even understand what a commercial is for.

I have had to give up smoking three times in my life, in order to preserve my voice. That’s why, at 81, I can still speak clearly. Young communicators should keep their voices clear and also their speech clear, by training, doing tongue exercises and listening to good speakers, to clear their pronunciations.

We have failed to follow Gandhiji’s advice to have one simple national language, Hindustani. Whatever language you speak, to communicate effectively, you need to speak so that you can be understood immediately. Also, you should learn whatever language you speak properly. Today, people are mixing up their languages. Hinglish is a new thing. Not just announcers, even advertising professionals and copywriters are ruining language by using incorrect grammar. This is bad. I strongly believe we should have a three-language formula all over India: the local language, Hindustani, and English, which helps us stay in touch with the world.

Indian film music [in my time] was a beautiful reflection of our culture. Our fabulous music directors would take from all our traditional, theatrical and folk musical forms and blend it gently with the melodious part of Western music. I would like our music to go back to the era when melody was given precedence over dhoom-dhaam and high rhythm. While we have good broadcasters in the radio stations today, they have a tendency to sound a bit vague, loud and difficult to follow.

With apologies to all the other great music directors in the world, there were three whom I was very fond of: SD Burman, Roshan and Madan Mohan. They were all magnificent people, childishly innocent in certain ways, but very mature in their knowledge, presentation and creation of music.

My favourite interviewee was Kishore Kumar because he was the most unpredictable man I’ve ever known. I was introduced to him through a mutual friend, and we became quite friendly. After an unsuccessful attempt at interviewing him for BinacaGeetmala [a popular radio countdown show], I finally managed to convince him to be interviewed for the last show of SaridonKeSaathi some years later. It was one of the most fabulous shows of my life. He asked me to go sit in one corner and did a muqadma (trial) kind of programme on himself — Kishore Kumar the child, the youth and the old man. And, it was just brilliant.

I am currently reviving some of the great recordings I have done in the last 50 years. Radio City has been airing a programme called Sitaron Ki Jawaniyaan every Sunday at noon and then 9 pm. The show is a revival of interviews I had done with great film stars when they were young. I have updated the shows with openings and closings about what happened to the stars after the interviews. Some of them are no more. I find that the more I dig into my archives, the more great stuff I find that is worth reviving.

A good radio programme is one that you can see. Radio is a medium that involves you totally because you don’t have to be glued to it like television. You can do anything you want while listening and still enjoy it. From the songs and the commentary to the sound effects, the listener creates his own mental image of what is being presented on the air. It creates a high level of involvement with the listener, which makes it probably the best medium in the world.

I believe firmly in God. I am a Muslim, but I have grown up in a multi-religious atmosphere. I have found that all religions mention that there is only one god. We just view him from our own different points of view. Every religion teaches kindness, peace, love, cooperation and generosity. So, why should we fight people of different religions? We could become the greatest country in the world if we didn’t have communal tension.

Part of the piece is taken, with permission, from an article in ON Stage Magazine