Binaca Geetmala, the legendary radio countdown of Hindi films songs, ran from 1952 to 1994. It was, however, only in 1989 that it moved from Radio Ceylon to AIR’s Vividh Bharati. The story of Binaca Geetmala’s success is the story of the triumphant march of Hindi film music and of the Indian people’s embrace of “popular” culture in defiance of attempts to impose a state-sponsored idea of high-brow classicism.
Put off by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister B.V. Keskar’s disparaging attitude towards film songs and his attempts to censor the songs to be aired on AIR, Hindi film music in the early 1950s found a willing broadcaster in Radio Ceylon (which was, incidentally, Asia’s first broadcasting station). That is how Binaca Geetmala came to be broadcast by Radio Ceylon in 1952. The programme was recorded in Bombay, and the tapes travelled to Colombo by air.
Ameen Sayani, the college student who anchored the countdown programme, had presented some episodes of a similar programme, Lipton ke Sitaare, on Radio Ceylon. But it was Binaca Geetmala that made him a household name. People dropped everything to hear his voice on the programme on Wednesday evenings, 8 p.m. Thousands of letters started pouring in from listeners, who began to organise themselves into various clubs.
Gradually, AIR was forced to shed its high-brow attitude and popular film music was accommodated in its airwaves. But the Geetmala remained with Radio Ceylon until 1988. In 1989, it was moved to Vividh Bharati and it continued to run until 1994.