It Was a Wednesday -- By Siraj Syed

It Was a Wednesday -- By Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed began his career with Ameen Sayani in 1970, aged 18, co-compèring stage shows. He went on to work with him as writer, voice, production manager, editor-compiler, script co-ordinator, researcher, accounts assistant, Public Relations Officer, trouble-shooter and odd-job-man. He continues to work with his ustaad to this day. In these 46 years, he got to know Ameen Sayani like few others.


“Why is Ameen Sayani hardly heard on air these days, and why is Siraj Syed sitting in the audience, instead of being on the panel?” 
 
The kind soul who paid me this huge compliment turned out to be Rachana Bhandari, former journalist and perennial radio-buff, who was, at that time, working with a TV channel. The event was an international media convention in Mumbai some years ago, and the panel parried the question. 
 
Then, a few days ago, social media was abuzz with the news that Shekhar Gupta would feature Ameen Sayani in a two-part Walk the Talk, on NDTV. I made it a point to watch the show, like millions of others. A quiet tear rolled down my eye when I realised that, at 83 ½, he would not be able do the walking that guests on the show do. It must have been 3-4 years ago that I last went along with him, walking, to a shop near his office, from where he wanted to pick-up a pair of shoes. As the two veterans began to talk that Friday night on satellite TV, I began my walk down memory lane. 

It was a Wednesday, in Bombay of the late fifties. A group of boys, in their late teens, was sitting in a tea joint, as the rivetting voice of Ameen Sayani came through, conducting Binaca Geetmala. The ‘boys’ were my brother Riaz (BhaiSaahab) and his five friends, including Ramnik Poojara, and I believe some betting was involved. Close to 9 pm, the song on the chotee kee paidaan (top rung of the ladder) was announced. Ramnikbhai looked at me, incredulously, “Damn it! You were right again. You must have a hotline to God himself! How can you predict the top song so accurately, week-after-week?” That explained why this group took me along to that joint in Gamdevi, South Bombay, and offered me sweet samosas, while they picked my brains for the chart-topper.
 

Hard taskmaster
 
It was not, however, this uncanny knack that led me to AmeenSaahab (ASb). His mother and my father, Syed Hashim Hussain, were involved in propagating Hindi+Urdu=Hindustani as the national language of India. Papa sometimes took me along on his visits to the Sayanis’ home, and I still recall ASb lifting me in his arms. Later, I even attended his wedding, as a pre-teenager. BhaiSaahab, who was creatively inclined, was struggling to get a commerce degree, and was only too happy to say goodbye to college, and find a job in the film-and-music weekly, Pointer, published in English, Hindi and Urdu, and jointly owned and, for a while, edited by Ameen Sayani himself. 
 

 
Riaz rose to become the editor. By the time I finished college, Pointer had shut down, and BhaiSaahab had been absorbed as a radio script-writer with ASb. My own ambition was to become a doctor, but I was also good at acting, compèring and mimicry. When I featured in All India Radio’s first Yuva Vani play from Bombay, and essayed as many as five roles in it, ASb was impressed. 

Recommendations for compèring came along. Noticing my sense of humour, he also asked me to compile jokes for his Radio Ceylon programme, Maratha Darbar Ki Mahekti Baaten, sometimes asking me to even stand-in for him on air. In late 1972, armed with a science degree, I told ASb that I wanted to join the pharmaceutical industry. He gave me a letter of introduction to his friend Hafeez Noorani, then Marketing Manager with a pharma/healthcare company. Co-incidentally, Noorani had heard me compère a couple of live ghazal shows, and felt that radio was a better career option for me. He wrote a ‘counter-note’ on ASb’s letter, advising him to absorb me in his own team! ASb looked at me intensely, and then came the defining moment, “Hafeez’s right! It is tough work, I am a hard taskmaster, and you will not earn much initially, but if you are prepared to slog it out, …!”

Bobby
 
One ominous day in 1973, we were recording the ‘pilot’ for the radio advertising campaign of Raj Kapoor’s Bobby. ASb decided to recreate the Raju-Bobby romance in the studio, blending humour with passion. He let me improvise on the script, since I was about the same age as Rishi Kapoor. This was my big break, and I was out to impress. Barely one line into the script, I heard an emphatic reprimand, “Don’t imitate me! I want you sound like yourself, not a Junior Ameen Sayani.” It was a lesson I never forgot. 
 
Bobby won a prize at the first ever Radio and Television Advertising Producers Association (RAPA) awards, and brought me plaudits galore. But I had to turn down offers from competitive radio and stage producers, who wanted me to clone my ustaad. I could see their point. Here I was, an established mimic, in the most privileged position, imbibing every priceless lesson and tip by the best-known broadcaster in Asia (the world?) in scripting, vocal variety, cadence and extreme clarity of diction, but taking pains not to sound like him. I chose loyalty to the institution called Ameen Sayani, and went on to be part of the team that produced dozens of highly memorable radio series, like S. Kumar’s Ka Filmi Muqaddama, Shalimar Superlac Jodi, Geep Sitaaron Ke Saathi, Modi Sangeet Khazana, Modi Sangeet Kahani, Maratha Darbar Ki Yaadgaar Filmen, Ricoh Muskurahaten, Devesh Agarbatti Ke Sitaarey, Cibaca Sangeetmala (yes, I wrote some of the scripts, in the 90s!)
     

My independent efforts, like HMV Star Show (English)/HMV Ke Sitaarey (1980-86), Close-Up Sangeet Muqabla (1991-93) and Union Bank Ka Naam Inaam Hee Inaam (2010-13), won appreciation, though I did not ever imitate ASb. After viewing my TV interview of Raveena Tandon, shot in one 30-minute, un-rehearsed take, he wrote me a note of appreciation. On another occasion, when I was compèring a show at Mumbai’s Nehru Centre, where I had to introduce none other than Dilip Kumar, and was on tenterhooks as the Emperor of acting walked-up and I went into the chaste Urdu intro, he was present, unknown to me. During the interval, he came backstage and patted my back, with a “Well done!” 

Silver Anniversary
 
In December 1977, we celebrated Binaca Geetmala’s Silver Jubilee/Anniversary. I toiled for a month or more, chasing producers for good quality prints of rare film songs that had reached the top spot in the 25 preceding years (the 25th was to be revealed at the programme itself), which were to be screened on the occasion, in what was widely understood in those Doordarshan days as Chhaya Geet format. Concurrently, I was also recording audio messages, from famously short-tempered composers like C. Ramchandra and Sajjad Hussain, to be included in the celebrations, both live and on radio, as well as distributing invitations to the event. On the big day, I heaved a big sigh of relief and wept with joy as the projection began smoothly, and then fell down in a heap, out of sheer fatigue. In my dazed state, I could hear a familiar voice that propelled me back to consciousness, “Siraj, bete, (son) I must say you did a remarkable job.” Such praise, or, in fact any praise, from ASb, is always worth its weight in gold, for it does not come easy, or often. 

Having been a keen yoga (“lazy yoga”, he calls it) practitioner for decades, ASb was healthy for his age, till a few years ago. 
 

 
The spontaneous smile that lit-up his face when Aamir Khan went nostalgic, asking him to devise a radio campaign for Lagaan in the same vein that he had grown-up listening to, in an age where radio advertising for films is all but dead, has graced his visage less frequently in the last 10-12 years. For over six decades, he has seen the world gradually crumble around, him brick by brick. So many near and dear ones, family and friends, idols and contemporaries, have passed away, including his Chief
Copywriter Riaz (BhaiSaahab), who served ASb for all of 45 years, wrote the maximum number of his award-winning spots, jingles and sponsored programmes. He died in 2007, on the way to ASb’s office. And Ramnikbhai, who was a Sayani family friend in later years, too is no more.

Happy 80
 
When he turned 80, on 21 December 2012, his family and close associates decided to give him a surprise birthday party, at the Yacht Club. Guests included an elite circle of family, professionals and friends. Among them were music director Anandji (surviving half of the brothers-music directors duo, Kalyanji-Anandji) and Farouque Shaikh, who was known as much for his radio and stage work as his touching film and TV roles. That was to be the last time I saw Farouque, who I had first met when he was still a student at ASb’s alma mater, St. Xavier’s College. 
 
ASb had taken me along to co-compère a Xavier’s show, at a time when Farouque’s fellow-students included Pankaj Udhas, Sharda (later Kavita) Krishnamurthy and Satish Shah. I did see Farouque one more time, on screen, in Club 60, which I reviewed, and sent him an SMS, praising his performance. He gracefully thanked me for it. Next I heard he was no more.

To add ‘authentic’ colour to the event, it was decided that he would be escorted to the venue by his son Rajil and daughter-in-law KrishnaJyoti (Dinky), where there would be a make-shift radio broadcast studio (just a table and chairs, and a microphones, really), from where, for the one and only time in his presence, I would do live coverage, mimicking his voice. I called myself Binaca Top, and my co-anchor was a lady, who was named Binaca Green, two brand variants of the Binaca range of toothpastes that he promoted on the show. Would he take umbrage, I wondered, and feared? No. He didn’t. It is for him to decide whether I have been a worthy disciple, but AmeenSaahab is much more than a teacher, mentor or guru to me. I will not feel fully orphaned till he is around. 

Incidentally, I was born on a Wednesday, about a year before Binaca Geetmala.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Ameen Sayani’s 80th birthday celebrations, 21 December 2012, Bombay Yacht Club (excerpts from the script)
Siraj (Imitating AmeenSaahab):
“Behno aor bhaiyo, Binaca Geetmala ki ore sey..aap sab ko Namaaskar..Salaam..Aadaab..aor Good Evening. Bhai meree aavaaz sunkar hee aap samajh gaye hongey ki yeh Geetmala SriLanka Broadcasting Corporation par sunee jaaneyvaalee Binaca Geetmala sey kuchh-kuchh alag hae. Pahlee baat to yeh ki maen aapkaa puraanaa radio saathee Ameen Sayani naheen bol rahaa hoon, haalaanki unkee tarah bolneykee koshish zaroor kar rahaa hoon. Doosree baat yeh ki aaj Budhvaar naheen hae, Shukrvaar, yanee Friday hae, teesree baat yeh ki aath bajkey kaafee samay ho gayaa hae, aor chaothee baat: Binaca Geetmala kabhee duet andaaz men naheen pesh kee gayee! Magar yeh sab gadbaden kyon ho raheen haen, is ka andaazaa bhee aapko ab tak ho hee gayaa hoga.
Sabko yeh ahsaas hae
Ki maoqa qhaas-ul-qhaas hae
To--Jisney hameshaa bajvaaeen aoron ke liye taaliyaan
        Aaj dil khol kar ham bajaen unhee ke liye taaliyaan
(Guided applause)
Sangeet premiyon kee pyaaree Geetmala ka silsila in dinon bhee jaaree hae, CDs par Geetmala Kee Chhaon Men ke naamsey. Choonki is vaqt ham Yacht Club men baethey haen, kyon na apnee is mulaqaat ko hum GKCM jaesa hee koyee naam de den...jaesey ki Geetmala Ki Nao Men? Ek aesee nao, jismen kuchh gungunana bhee hoga, kuchh jingle-vingle bhee hongey, aor kuchh baat-cheet bhee. Ghabraiye mat, gungunaaney ka kaam maen naheen karoonga. Yeh kaam karengee mere compere saathee, Binaca Green, yaanee GEETA Gopalakrishnan. Maen, yanee Siraj Syed, urf Binaca Top, to bas boloonga, aor jab doosrey log bolengey, to dil thaam key baethoonga. Aap sab bhee dil thaam key baethiyega, kyonki hamaarey is outdoor studio men aaj ek-sey-badhkar-ek hastiyaan tashreef rakhtee haen, aor unmensey kuchh logon ko yahaan, microphone par bulaayaa bhee jayegaa, geetmala ke rachiyeta ko shabdmala pahnaney ke liye. Inmen kuchh to Ameen Sayani Sahaab key family-members haen, kuchh dost haen, kuchh puraaney saathee haen, kuchh unkey team-members haen...jo bhee haen, sab-key-sab unsey beintahaa pyaar karneyvaaley haen, unka behad ehtaraam karneyvaaley haen. 
 
 
Har ek speaker ka svaagat hum musical andaaz men karengey.”

Siraj Syed Siraj is the Consulting Editor of nrizone.com. See profile
 
Views expressed and claims made in the articles on this site are the contributors' own, and nrizone does not necessarily agree with them, or endorse them, in any way.
Contributions are published in good faith, with due diligence, and liabilities for authenticity or copyright lie with the authors.
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