Ameen Sayani (1932-2024) A voice that glued a new nation

As the golden age of radio swept across post-Independence India, a voice resonated through the households of a nascent nation, enjoining a sense of familial warmth and unity. That voice belonged to Ameen Sayani, an eminent radio announcer whose legacy transcends the realm of broadcasting. He knit the diverse tapestry of India’s cultural landscape into a common identity, providing solace and companionship through changing times.

Mahesh Bhatt, a renowned filmmaker and one of Sayani’s countless admirers, vividly recounts receiving an invitation from Derek O’Brien last year to visit the legend at his residence in north Mumbai. Despite the distance, Bhatt shared, the opportunity to meet their childhood idol was irresistible. He reminisces about the days when Sayani’s greeting, “Namaskar bhaiyon aur behno, main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon,” signaled the start of the acclaimed Binaca Geetmala countdown show.

Starting in 1952 on Radio Ceylon and later transitioning to Vividh Bharati, Binaca Geetmala reigned supreme as the weekly music chart show, a beacon for listeners in a country where All India Radio refrained from airing Hindi film music. Sayani’s show became an integral part of life for countless Indians, introducing them to the era’s great musical talents such as Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, and Kishore Kumar, among others.

In the aftermath of his brother Hamid Sayani’s passing in 1975, Ameen took on the task of hosting the Bournvita Quiz Contest, adding yet another layer to his already illustrious career. With over 54,000 radio programmes and nearly 19,000 jingles to his name, Sayani’s influence rippled far and wide, as illustrated by Mahesh Bhatt’s encounters with Sayani’s fans from diverse locales like Nagaland and Macau.

During a heartfelt meeting last September which Bhatt recalls with great fondness, he was struck by Sayani’s astuteness and empathetic engagement—qualities that made him an icon beyond the microphone. Ameen Sayani’s invitation to share a sumptuous spread of snacks while discussing his memoir further solidified his welcoming and generous spirit.

Derek O’Brien cherishes his own memories, particularly of meeting Sayani during the mid-90s for the television version of the Bournvita Quiz Contest. It was an occasion where the veteran broadcaster graced the set, a gesture that O’Brien holds dear. He regards the quiz show as Sayani’s “silver medal” in a career where Binaca Geetmala was undoubtedly the gold—both shows being milestones in the radio luminary’s journey.

Over the decades, Sayani ventured into cinematography with roles in films like Teen Devian and Bhoot Bungla, adding a visual element to his storied career. Honored with the Padma Shri in 2009, his accolades are extensive, including recognition in the Limca Book of Records, but it is ultimately his voice—one that seamlessly connected the mosaic of India—that will be his enduring legacy.

In a poignant tribute to a shared history, when O’Brien delivered the news of Sayani’s passing to Bhatt, it was received with a heartfelt message of gratitude for their last encounter. The loss is deeply felt across the nation, but the echoes of Ameen Sayani’s voice will continue to reverberate, finding its immortal place in the heart of every Indian.

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