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WHY BINACA GEETMALA WAS AIRED FROM RADIO CEYLON

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Jyothi Venkatesh

In 1952, the Indian National Congress party had just had a landslide victory in the first general election and Keskar—a staunch Brahmin and a classical Indian music purist—was given charge of the I&B Ministry.Balakrishna Vishwanath Keskar (1903 – 28 August 1984) was an Indian politician and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting between 1952 and 1962.

Remembered for creating the Vrinda Vadya and promoting classical music through All India Radio, Keskar, who was India’s longest serving Minister for Information and Broadcasting, was also responsible for banning Hindi film music, cricket commentaries and the harmonium on All India Radio.To his mind, Indian film songs were straying from their responsibility of instilling national pride in people. The lyrics, aside from being in Urdu, were generally ‘erotic’,”In addition, there was a steady rise in the use of Western instruments and Western melodies in the songs, “which Keskar identified with a lower stage of human evolution”.

Songs like Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer Bana Le, a ghazal which S.D. Burman turned into an upbeat, guitar-sporting number for Baazi (1951), and Mur Mur Ke Na Dekh for Shree 420, 1955, which featured an orchestra of Western instruments and had flamenco-style tunes, would not have passed Keskar’s test. He wanted songs that were infused with the sound of the flute, tanpura or sitar instead. And so it was chiefly through radio, he thought, that the country’s musical heritage could be rescued. Keskar would go on to become the longest-serving I&B minister from 1952-62.To begin with, he mandated that all songs aired on AIR would be screened, and, he imposed “a quota of 10 percent of all program time”. In addition, Keskar ensured that if a film song was played, the film’s title would not be announced, since he considered that advertising. Only the singer’s name would be mentioned.

The film industry was up in arms, of course. Filmfare magazine characterized Keskar as a devious man whose decision was “a calculated blow at the reputation of the Indian film industry, as much as one aimed at ousting film music from the market” (August 1952 issue). In response, film producers who owned the rights to the songs decided to rescind the broadcast licences given to AIR. And, as Keskar anticipated, film music completely disappeared from radio within a mere three months. The void was filled by AIR broadcasting classical music.Across the shore, Radio Ceylon rose to the occasion—and the opportunity. It created the legendary musical countdown Binaca Geetmala—a show entirely dedicated to Indian film songs. Every Wednesday, Indian listeners would tune into Radio Ceylon and listen to their favourite songs with their favourite show host—the iconic and charming Ameen Sayani, who would engage them with complementary film trivia.

As Radio Ceylon’s popularity grew in India, Keskar’s influence waned and the government was forced to lift the ban. In 1957, Vividh Bharati was conceptualized as a service on AIR that offered non-stop film music broadcast. “Vividh Bharati had a tremendous blend of heritage and modernity, parampara and pragati, let’s say. And this soon became quite popular,”  By 1967, Vividh Bharati had turned commercial and began accepting advertisements. By the late 1970s, it had become a cultural behemoth, functioning as the primary source of entertainment in Indian cities .

Keskar would be outraged if he heard the music the Indian film industry makes today, but it is ironic that some of the country’s most iconic and memorable songs, produced during the “golden era of Hindi cinema”, were once considered objectionable and would have possibly been stifled by one man’s draconian policies if a radio channel from a neighbouring country hadn’t stepped in.Radio CEYLON is the oldest radio station in Asia. Broadcasting was started on an experimental basis in Ceylon by the colonial Telegraph Department in 1923, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe.

THE BIRTH OF AIR (ALL INDIA RADIO)

Broadcasting started in India in 1927 with two privately-owned transmitters at Bombay and Calcutta. Government took over the transmitters in 1930 and started operating them under the name of Indian Broadcasting Service. It was changed to All India Radio in 1936 and it also came to be known as Akashvani from 1957.

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