Binaca Geet Mala: History and trivia
Ambarish Mishra's history
It all began in the winter of 1952. Honchos of a top ad company were planning on Radio Ceylon, a show of Hindi film songs for its client, a chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate widely known in India for, among other products, a humble toothpaste! A show of English songs, presented by Hamid Sayani, the legendary broadcaster, was doing exceedingly well on Radio Ceylon, and the ad company was eager to tap the Hindi market given the popularity of Hindi film songs. “However, not a single writer or compere was willing to even consider the proposal given the remuneration — a paltry Rs. 25 per week for researching, scripting and presenting the hit parade. Not a princely sum. However, Hamidbhai roped me in, insisting that Ishould do the show and thus began the long, rewarding journey—Binaca Geet Mala’,” said radio rajah Ameen Sayani on Friday. In 1986, ‘Binaca Geet Mala’ was re-named ‘Cibaca Geet Mala’. In view of the Sayani Sr. ’s age—he will turn 90 this month—and delicate health, son Rajil helped father fill in the gaps in the Binaca Geet Mala story which is entwined with the post-Independent India’s cultural narrative. Actually, Sayani was a tad nervous about the project. He belonged to a family which was immersed in literature, Gandhian values and Western classical music, while the ‘Geet Mala’ was meant to please the lowest common denominator—the hoi polloi.
Fresh out of college (a pucca Xavierite), Sayani, all of 20, put his head and heart into the hit parade which effortlessly blurred the caste-communitycreed distinctions. “It’s time we recognised the fact that like the BRCC and the IITs, the Binaca Geet Mala too symbolises the Nehruvian India,” said noted visualiser Vinayak Ponkshe.
Sayani’s home-spun Hindustani and easy, microphone-friendly speaking style (he minted new words such as ‘sartaaj’ — a ‘crown’ for the top number — and ‘paaydaan’, a ladder step which a song has to ascend to reach the top) went down well with listeners who were hungry for film ditties as All India Radio had, back in the 1950s, clamped a ban on cinema music which may “corrupt” the youth! The first show, a bouquet of seven songs relayed on December 3, 1952, was an instant success. Within a year, 65,000 letters began to pour into Sayani’s Colaba office every week. Later, the number of songs went up from seven to 16.
Aspool would be flown to Colombo every Saturday for the show scheduled for the following Wednesday. ‘Pom pom baja bole’, a popular Hindi film ditty from Aasmaan, set to tune by O. P. Nayyar (said to be based loosely on ‘Jingle bell, jingle bell’), was the Geet Mala’s signature tune.
Sayani would put in 12 hours’ work every day, assisted by wife Rama, and a well-trained staff. “I could never get to meet Papa, except on Sundays. He was busy in his studio when the Geet Mala would go on air on Wednesdays,” said Rajil. In 1989 Sayani shifted the show to Vividh Bharati, All India Radio’s window to popular music.
Sayani kept experimenting with the format to keep it going from strength to strength. Initially, the countdown list was finalised on sale of records as reported by music shops. Listener clubs sprouted in every town. “We would lay a bet on on the No. 1 song. However, no one complained if it slipped to the third position as every song was sweet and melluflous,” said Piyush Mehta, a die-hard Geet Mala loyalist from Surat. “Entire India—in fact, the sub-continent would come to a standstill every Wednesday at 8 pm,” added Ponkshe.
To ensure transparency in the selection of songs, weekly sales reports were sought from key record dealers across the country. For the first two decades Naushad Ali, C Ramchandra, Hemant Kumar, Roshan and Madan Mohan figured prominently in the weekly hit parade.
The 1960s belonged to Shankar-Jaikishan, O P Nayyar and S D Burman, with Laxmikant-Pyarelal, KalyanjiAnandji and R D Burman all set to take over from them.
“Both I and Laxmibhai were ardent admirers of Binaca Geet Mala. While struggling as junior musicians in Mumbai’s recording studios, we dreamed of a day when our songs would be the Geet Mala chart-busters,” said Pyarelal of the famous Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo.
However, the Geet Mala began to lose its sheen in the 1970s because of the advent private TV channels and steady decline in the quality of film songs, said experts. However, the key factor was the poor reception of Radio Ceylon, which affected the fragile transmission network.
Sayani keeps himself busy: reading and writing in his cosy, New Marine Lines apartment. The grand old man of radio is penning his memoirs—with a song on his lips.
In the 1950s, India's first Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Balakrishna Vishwanath Keskar, played a crucial role in launching the most iconic radio program for Indian listeners. In 1952, the Congress Party led by Pt. Nehru won the general elections y, and Keskar was appointed as the head of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Keskar, a man with strong opinions on certain subjects, made several controversial decisions during his tenure. These decisions included a short-lived ban on cricket commentary on radio, as well as a similar ban on the use of harmonium in All India Radio (AIR) programmes. However, Keskar's decision that had the most significant impact on the future was his ban on film music from AIR. As a classical music enthusiast, Keskar believed that film music was causing irreparable damage to Indian classical music.
Initially, Keskar limited film music to only 10% of airtime on AIR, but he eventually took steps that made Hindi film songs persona non grata on AIR. This decision resulted in considerable public outrage and protests from the film industry, but Keskar remained firm. Keskar's ban soon became a boon for another party. Radio Colombo, the second oldest radio station in the world, founded in 1925, was struggling to find its niche until WW2. During the war, it became Radio South East Asia Command (SEAC), an effective means for the Allies to send messages to forces spread across SE Asia.
Around the same time, Radio Ceylon, formerly known as Radio SEAC, had begun its journey in December 1949, with programmes in English, Tamil, and Hindi. The radio station quickly gained popularity among Indian listeners. Sensing a great business opportunity, an American named Daniel Molina founded Radio Advertising Services in Bombay in 1951 to recruit sponsors for Radio Ceylon's programs.
Molina also established Radio Ceylon's production arm, Radio Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. (REPL), and hired an All India Radio (AIR) broadcaster named Hamid Sayani to head it. With Hindi film songs going off the air, Radio Ceylon saw an opportunity to fill the gap.
However, Hamid Sayani could not find a producer/writer for a Hindi film song program on the modest budget of Rs 25/week. Eventually, he settled on his younger brother Ameen. Around this time, the Swedish company Ciba launched their toothpaste brand "Binaca Top" in India. To promote their brand, they decided to title sponsor a new Hindi film song-based program on Radio Ceylon. Thus, the iconic "Binaca Geetmala" was born.
Ameen Sayani hosted the Geetmala, which aired every Wednesday evening. During 1952-53, the program did not have a countdown format. However, in 1954, the ranking was decided based on record sales as well as fan postcards. The latter was scrapped after it was discovered that many listeners were sending multiple entries.
Binaca Geetmala became immensely popular among Indian listeners. Its success prompted Keskar and AIR to launch Vividh Bharati in 1957 to broadcast film songs. But it could not derail the rise of Binaca Geetmala. Every Wednesday evening, the entire subcontinent eagerly waited to hear the iconic lines: "Jee haan bhaiyoo aur behnoo, main hoon apka dost Ameen Sayani aur aap sunn rahein hain Binaca Geetmala!"
Geetmala and Sayani's partnership continued on Radio Ceylon until 1989, when it permanently moved to Vividh Bharati. The title changed from Binaca to Cibaca Geetmala along the way, but the show retained its loyal audience. However, the launch of satellite TV marked the end of the road for Geetmala. Song countdown shows on TV like Superhit Muqabla quickly became a big hit as radio made way for TV. Finally, Geetmala's 42-year journey ended in 1994.
For several generations of Indians, Geetmala will always remain close to their hearts. The show's unique format and Ameen Sayani's voice had become a part of their lives. Even today, many people cherish fond memories associated with this remarkable show.
For lists of popular songs
If the song that you are looking for has not been listed under one particular year, please look up the next year’s charts as well. This is especially true of Binaca/ Cibaca’s annual charts, which would carry songs released in the last months of a year into the following year’s charts.
For lists of popular Hindi-Urdu films
Indpaedia has lists of the highest grossing films of all individual years (and some decades) from Hindi-Urdu films: 1940 to the present.
Records for the 1930s are non-existent but you may still want to read:
Below are sample links, one from each decade. Links to all individual years (and some decades) will be found at the bottom of every page in the Hindi-Urdu films series.
Hindi-Urdu films: 1941 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 1950 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 1968 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 1977 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 1986 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 1995 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 2004 <> Hindi-Urdu films: 2013 <>