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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. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Behno aor bhaiyo, let us celebrate, Ameen Sayani has just turned 90!

Behno aor bhaiyo, let us celebrate, Ameen Sayani has just turned 90!

Today is his 90th birthday.

When you are 90, you have seen it all, been there, done that.

But the spark is still present, and he has been recording advertisements and content well into his 80s.

As can be expected, health is an issue, and assignments have gradually come down to a trickle in the last decade. Not many wanted a man in his 80s as the voice of a product, service or film. But it is amazing that the assignments have not stopped totally. Although he gave up, compèring many years ago, some of his fans still want to hear his recorded voice, and never mind that he sounds really old now. But the bass, the baritone, the clarity of diction, the perfect modulation and the conversational feel are signature qualities that have stayed with him for 70 years now.

A really old Ameen Sayani is still Ameen Sayani. If all goes well, he and I will soon record a script written by me for a client in North India, the third in a series that has spanned four years, the third instalment being delayed mainly due to Covid. He hasn’t ventured out of his house in a while, due to health restrictions, and his son Rajil has been looking after him, along

Ameen Sayani, music director late Ravi, Rajil and Dinky

with his daughter-in-law, Dinky ever since old age and ill-health came to stay. But come 2023, they expect him to be fit enough to go to his office, next to Regal cinema in South Mumbai, not too far from his Churchgate residence. 

So much has been written about him, and Binaca Geetmala, in recent times and earlier, that another tribute seems redundant. But not for me. As probably his last remaining contact with his old team, I just had to write something, and so I narrowed down on one theme.

What have been his strengths, all through these 90 years, of which I have seen 52, from close quarters?

Quality above everything.

Whatever you may say about an Ameen Sayani recording or live show compèring, you will never be able to say that quality was not above par. In most cases, the word excellent comes to mind. He is a product of the era when almost everything was scripted and pre-recorded. And he always had a retinue of writers at his call. When they wrote for him, they had to be prepared to see large portions of their script scratched/struck off and be

Ameen Sayani's own jottings for a script featuring the late comedian, writer, producer, director, I.S. Johar

told to rewrite those portions. Essentially, he would extract the best portions of any script. When you spoke for him, with him, in a recording, you had to be prepared to be told in no uncertain terms that you sound like a …! There have been occasions when he was co-erced to accept film publicity assignments, assignments he might have refused, being over-burdened. But when he accepted them, he put me in charge, aware that his only disciple will not let him down. On other occasions, he simply said no, and the assignments went to other producers. I remember one day, we started recording the sponsored programme of a film called Chor Machaye Shor at 11.30 a.m., and finished it at 11.45 p.m., twelve hours and fifteen minutes later. The recorded portion was only about seven minutes in duration, and yet we took so long, because he wanted perfection. Granted there were a few interruptions, and he was needed to attend to some official business time and again, but we took at least 7 hours to record seven minutes of usable material.

A strong, large team

There are programmes that he largely wrote himself, like Binaca Geetmala (BGM), but when there were as many as 25 programmes to be recorded in a week, other than BGM, he would assign the script-writing to the writers he felt best suited the type of progamme or film. Over the years, some 50 writers, specialising in Hindi, Urdu, or both, called Hindustani, must have contributed several thousand scripts in all, and, after the once over, they were all recorded. Like-wise for voicing. Clients came to him for HIS voice, but he could not possibly lend his voice to all the clients at once. Moreover, the formats of most programmes needed more than one voice, sometimes as many as 6-7. Some 100 voices must have worked for him, since he turned film programme producer, in 1956, with the film Hatim Tai. Some of them were producers of radio programmes in their own right, but were always keen to associate with Ameen Sayani.

Ameen Sayani, Brij Bhushan and Madhur (nee Zahida) Bhushan (sister of Madhubala) at a recording

For the radio advertising campaigns of Junglee and Bobby, he introduced horses for courses: Brij Bhushan and Varsha Lall for Junglee and Ashima Singh and Siraj Syed (yours truly) for Bobby. He could have done the programmes solo, but he knew these films needed new voices to lead the way, while he played anchor. Junglee was introducing Saira Banu while Bobby was introducing Dimple, and re-introducing Rishi Kapoor. So, the teenage feel was important for the radio representation of the screen characters. AmeenSaahab was then 41. Today, and for many decades now, Brij Bhushan is a name to contend with, in the field of voicing and audio production, and has his own rcording studio. Varsha Lall is no more. After having done voicing for hundreds of programmes for AmeenSaahab, Ashima Singh

I.S. Johar, Ashima Singh and Ameen Sayani at a recording

now lives in Delhi, with her family. I remain committed to AmeenSaahab, 52 years after I first wrote my script for him and began speaking for his programmes and spots.

Giving everyone their due

In the beginning of every month, he would prepare what were called Master Estimates. Riaz helped him prepare many, for years, I did a few. On the top of each sheet would be the name of a programme or spot that he had produced or delegated the production of, during the preceding month. Below that would be the names of the persons who contributed to it, in any manner: writers, voices, recordist, etc. Then, keeping in mind the budget and the duration of the programme, figures would be entered against each name. Of course, in most cases one of the names was Ameen Sayani, for the programmes where he did not lend his voice were very few. But amounts payable to him were decided last, after everybody else had been judiciously given his/her due. And sometimes, what would accrue to him at the end would be a paltry sum, but he was okay with that. After all, his name featured in so many programmes, that he could reconcile to the fact that he did not earn anything from a particular programme. Nobody can complain that he or she worked for AmeenSaahab but was not paid. So spoilt was I by this regularity and automated payment that I got the shock of my life when I found that many people, with whom I had occasionally worked outside, just did not pay.

Yoga from an early age

When he pulled me up for arriving late one afternoon (our working hours were 11.30-7.30, stretchable to 9.30 p.m.), I explained that I have problems related to sleep. He concluded that I was having difficulty in going to sleep. Immediately, he lay down on the sofa in Studio B and demonstrated a yoga pose, telling me that doing this will help me get sleep faster. I sheepishly muttered, “AmeenSaahab, my problem is that I sleep very late and, consequently, cannot get up early. I oversleep.” He replied, “Try this. And try to sleep early. You will get good sleep and will wake up early.” Until very recently, he did his yoga as a routine, except for the periods when he was advised by doctors not to do it. Yoga, he insisted, had a big role to play in his good health, right up to his 70s. It was around that time that two deaths had a deleterious effect on his health: that of his wife Rama (née Mattu) and his Chief Copywriter Riaz. He also taught me a breathing exercise, and lip and tongue exercises, to polish my diction and to retain my breath for long sentences. I use these in my lectures and workshops.

A keen sense of humour

Besides radio programmes like Maratha Darbar Ki Mahekti Baaten, Ricoh Muskurahaten and Johar Ke Javaab, which consisted of jokes and witticisms, he used a lot of humour in his stage shows too. I fed him with a steady supply of classified jokes, for the first two of the above programmes, while my brother, late Riaz, his Chief Copywriter, worked on Johar Ke Javaab. I also culled the best jokes, theme-wise, from various books and magazines, for his live anchoring assignments, and he used them very effectively, adding some of his own, and demonstrating quick repartee as well. On a few occasions, I got the opportunity to co-compère shows with him, and we would have these jokes narrated in tandem, half-dramatised. In real-life too, he would burst into laughter if anything really funny occurred or was said.

Once, he noticed that his typist was wearing two shirts, one on top of the other. When asked why, the typist could not offer any explanation. Seizing the moment, I said, “AmeenSaahab, being a typist he is so used to typing everything ‘one+one’ copies that he follows the rule while wearing shirts too.” AmeenSaahab guffawed and almost fell off his chair. On another occasion, Riaz (who I called BhaiSaahab) and I were accompanying him from his home to the office in his car. When we arrived at the destination, AmeenSaahab got off, carrying a very heavy briefcase. I offered to carry it for him. He declined my offer and started entering the building. I offered to carry it again. “It is too heavy, AmeenSaahab, let me carry it.” He responded with, “I am so used to carrying this brief-case that it feels strange when I am not carrying it.” “AmeenSaahab, it is so heavy, it will affect your balance,” I averred. “It will not,” retorted BhaiSaahab, “The balance is perfect. AmeenSaahab on one end, the briefcase on the other, like a pulley or a weighing scale.” AmeenSaahab found this so funny that he laughed uncontrollably and almost dropped the briefcase.

Two generations have grown up listening to Binaca Geetmala, BournVita Quiz Contest, S, Kumars Ka Filmi Muqaddama and hundreds of other

Ameen Sayani, with Hiralal Dusane, who gave the voice of the pukarchee (court caller) in S. Kumars Ka Filmi Muqaddama

sponsored programmes. On stage and on the radio, Masters of Ceremonies (MCs), anchors and jockeys of either gender continue to make hay imitating the genius, and these copycats are in their third generation now. After all, BGM began in 1952, so 70 years down the line, both, his fans and his imitators are in a third generation. Just for the record, in spite of being his only shishya, I do not imitate my guru. That has meant much fewer assignments than what I thought would come my way, because everybody who approached me thought I would imitate him. Since I do not, I pay the price for honouring my commitment to him that I would not imitate him, a commitment he had sought during the recording of the award-winning Bobby radio advertising campaign.

At the recording of a sponsored programme to promote the film Bobby: Ameen Sayani, Ashima Singh, Shailendra Singh and Siraj Syed. Outside the recording room are Chief Recordist M.S. Rane and advertising agency representative, Brij Mittle

AmeenSaahab is like a father to me. When my parents died, I told him that as long as he is alive, I will not consider myself an orphan. This is one 90 I would very much like to see converted into 100. Of course, I wish him good health, and great strength, and pray that he makes it to his centenary, when I will write another tribute. Meanwhile, I await his autobiography, which could make it to the stands in late 2023. Till then, behno aor bhaiyo (sisters and brothers; his trademark introduction in BGM and a few other programmes), Ameen Sayani, the Master of Radio and Stage Communication, has just turned 90. Let us light a candle in our homes and have a piece of cake, while praying for his health, and remembering those thousands of advertisements (spots and sponsored programmes) and the live shows that he lit up, with his unmatched voice.

Happy 90th birthday, AmeenSaahab.

(Photographs from the Ameen Sayani collection, courtesy Rajil Sayani)


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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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