when govt:of India banned broadcasting film music for several years. -1950-1960

When Indian listeners got their filmi music fix from Radio Ceylon

Ameen Sayani’s show was broadcast by Radio Ceylon.

Single Page

FOR SEVERAL YEARS BEGINNING IN 1952, All India Radio (AIR) stopped broadcasting film music because the then minister for information and broadcasting, BV Keskar,
 under whose charge AIR fell, believed film songs had become vulgar, erotic and Westernised. He first imposed a 10 percent quota on film music and, after negotiations with the Film Producers Guild of India broke down, AIR stopped broadcasting film music altogether for several years.

AIR’s ban, however, did not affect the genre’s popularity, as people tuned to Radio Ceylon to listen to film music. “Radio Ceylon was at the right place and the right time,” recounted Ameen Sayani, the legendary radio announcer, whose charismatic voice was among the many that Radio Ceylon carried to listeners in India. “They [Radio Ceylon staff] knew that All India Radio had banned film music. So, the decision to start a Hindi service then must have been deliberate.”

But a glance through the film and entertainment magazines of that time reveals that Keskar also had supporters, and that the ban spurred an ardent debate. While some praised film music because it successfully combined Western and Indian styles of music, others accused film music directors of copying foreign melodies and producing vulgar, un-Indian music. A reader named SG Bapat wrote to the Movie Times in 1952: “ In pointing out the low moral tone of the industry, Dr Keskar was merely calling a spade a spade… The cheap, sexy, degrading and humiliating standards of our present day film have their genesis in this wolfish attitude.” Another reader named Firoze G from Bombay wrote to the same publication that year, protesting that “present day film songs are insane, frivolous, and nonsensical in the extreme”.

But the larger public did not share these objections. As Sayani explained, “When people found out they could hear Hindi film music on Radio Ceylon, they started getting fed up of AIR and started shifting to Radio Ceylon.”

Radio Ceylon’s history goes back to WWII, when the British government set up a radio station in Colombo to counteract German and Japanese war propaganda and to convey news of the war to Allied forces in South and Southeast Asia. The British government installed a powerful transmitter in the station, whose broadcasts reached most of Asia. When the war ended and Ceylon gained independence, the British handed the transmitter over to the Ceylonese government. With the assistance of several well-trained broadcasters, including the Australian broadcaster Clifford Dodd, the Ceylonese government started an Asia-wide commercial service. Initially, most of their overseas programming was in English, but in the early 1950s, the Ceylonese government also started a Hindi Service branch.

As Sayani remembers it, the station’s Hindi programming went through growing pains. “Radio Ceylon’s Hindi Service began in a very amateurish manner,” he said. “They had some records and few people who knew the language. But at that time they were not well trained.” But after the AIR ban on Hindi film music, as the station grew popular in India, Radio Ceylon staff cashed in on this opportunity and developed a stronger Hindi branch in Colombo. “When Radio Ceylon started getting popular, an American living in India called Daniel Molina noticed that there was an opportunity for a business venture. He started Radio Enterprises,” said Sayani.

Molina’s company produced sponsored programmes for Radio Ceylon. Magnetic tape copies of these programmes were flown every week to Colombo and were broadcast back to India via Ceylon’s WWII transmitter. Sayani’s show, Binaca Geetmala, which became a national sensation, was one of those programmes that made the weekly pilgrimage from Bombay to the Colombo studios. Ironically, a military transmitter, whose original purpose had been to promote the war cause in the Asian British colonies and to communicate with the Allied forces in Asia, played a pivotal role in popularising film music in India in the 1950s and 1960s.

Second Lok Sabha
Members Bioprofile
KESKAR, DR. B. V., D.Litt (Paris), Cong., (Uttar Pradesh— Musafirkhana—1957): S. of Shri Vishwanath Keskar; B. Poona, 1903; ed. at Kashi Vidyapith and the Sorbonne, Paris; Unmarried; Secretary, Foreign Department, A.I.C.C., 1939-40; General Secretary, Indian National Congress, 1946; Official observer to the 37th Session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in September, 1948; Deputy Minister, External Affairs, December, 1948—52; Member, Indian Delegation to U.N.O. General Assembly, 1950; Deputy Minister of Railways and Transport in addition to External Affairs, March 1952 to May 1952; Minister of Information and Broadcasting, 1952—57 and re-appointed on April 17, 1957.

keskar wanted only classical music on AIR radio

starting of hindi film music programme by all india radio 1957


Why Were The Fifties Golden? Lord Meghnad Desai Answers

Dilip Kumar

 Lord Desai shines a light on the ‘50s decade, 

 his all-star tag team and music that trumped movies

By Lord Meghnad Desai
There is an American saying that if you remember how good the Sixties were, you were not there. But I was actually there in the Fifties in Bombay, watching films, as many as possible, and often first day first shows (which used to be Friday, 3.30 pm, by the way) . We had no other forms of entertainment – no TV, VCR, DVD, Internet…. 

Radio was there but All India Radio did not play film music as Dr BV Keskar, a dried prune of a minister of information and broadcasting, had banned it. Radio Ceylon prospered, as did Radio Pakistan, which played the same set of records it had somehow acquired .
We talked about films if in mixed company as that was the safest and perhaps the only topic where we could convey our deepest desires to members of the opposite sex. And , of course, by humming, singing and shouting out hit songs whenever and wherever we could. We played “antakshari” as one way of romancing in the days when women were untouchable and often unspeakable too!

The real winner of the Fifties was the music. We had stars of course, the Three Greats – Dilip, Raj, Dev plus the “teen deviyan” Nargis, Madhubala and Meena Kumari .

There was a massive galaxy of stars who had their own following. We chose one of the greats, and a devi , plus a second favourite. My team was Dilip Kumar and Bharat Bhushan plus Nargis until Guru Dutt convinced me of the charms of Madhubala in Mr and Mrs 55.

But there were Pradeep Kumar, Sunil Dutt , later Shammi Kapoor, and of course, there was the perennial Ashok Kumar.

Among women there were Nimmi, Nutan, Waheeda Rahman, Nalini Jaywant, Vyjayantimala as well as the supporting stars such as Shyama, Shashikala, Kumkum, Nigar Sultana, Vijalakshmi. And last, but not the least, Helen!

But films ran or flopped on music. The Fifties’ music was built on the flood of a new generation of music directors and poets and singers who came into the profession during the Forties .Naushad and Anil Biswas were already there, along with Khemchand Prakash  (Mahal, Tansen)and Shyam Sundar (Bazaar). Then came Shankar Jaikishan, C Ramchandran, SD Burman, Ravi, Hemant Kumar, OP Nayyar.  There were also Roshan, Khayyam and Ghulam Mohammad to remind us that the most prolific ones were not the only great ones.

There were Lata, Shamshad, Geeta, Asha and Mukesh, Talat , Hemant Kumar and the great Rafi with Kishore just coming in towards the end of the Fifties. Burman-da and Pradeepji would occasionally sing in their own style.

A film had seven to ten songs. To begin with, films were so popular and had such an assured audience that the plot was carelessly thrown together and plausibility was nil.

Look now at Mela (Dilip,Nargis), Anokha Pyar (Dilip, Nargis, Nalini Jaywant), Bawre Nain ( Raj Kapoor, Geeta Bali) or Arzoo (Dilip, Kamini Kaushal) and you will see my point.

The music was divine and to this day I can recite songs from all those films verbatim . Fifties’ music had melody which I sadly miss in today’s music (maybe just a sign that it is written for younger people, not me!).

But the songs had words, beautiful words in which we could intone about “ishq” and “mohabbat” and “pyaar” and “wafa”, moan about “zamana” and “kismet” and “taqdir”, which was always hostile, and cry our eyes out at “Chhod Gaye Balam” or any of the songs with which on his lips Dilip Kumar was dying in, film after film.

The poets Majrooh, Shakeel, Sahir, Rajendra Krishan, Shailendra, Hasrat, Jan NisarAkhtar, Kaifi Azmi, DN Madhok, Pradeepji gave a shape to our romantic feelings. It was all we needed to form the vision of our future love (no doubt, an arranged marriage). 

 Film music was the lingua franca of the young.
Of course, we were the first generation, in our teens in the ‘50s, who were allowed rather generously by our parents to go see films (middle class Indians had more money in their pockets, thanks to development).

Ten years before, respected families looked upon such entertainment with disdain, especially when it came to allowing their daughters. But in the Fifties, parents were more tolerant, and they even went to some films themselves. I recall a joint family group of eighteen, from teens to eighties, going off to the Liberty to see Jogan (Nargis, Dilip).

No multiplexes then. All films had to be watched in huge barn, “talkies”(tokiz),  as the cinema houses were called.

 Women had separate seats in the lower price sections:  5annas (30paise), 10 and half annas (65paise). Many respectable families would only go in the posh Rupee 1 and 5 anna (130 paise) or the top Rs 2 and 10 anna (260 paise) seats. But watching films was a collective experience. You liked what others did and often sang the songs as they came on.

Filmmaking was simple and quick in those days. Stars had not become so expensive and black money had not come in until the late ‘50s. Bimal Roy was shooting Do Bigha Zameen and Parineeta (hence the cameo by Meena Kumari in Do Bheega…) at the same time, and finished Biraj Bahu not so long after.

 There was no distinction between commercial cinema and parallel cinema. Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt, BR Chopra and Raj Kapoor made films which were serious yet entertaining. Sujata, Pyaasa, Ek Hi Rasta, Boot Polish and (Oscar nominated) Mother India were all made for the box-office. BR Chopra’s NayaDaur was furiously discussed as to whether it was ‘progressive’ or anti-machine and therefore right wing. Was it anti Nehru and anti-development or the right balance of man and machine?

  All this not disregarding “Ude Jab Jab Zulfe Teri” (the first Hindi film song in which the woman took the initiative, which was the really revolutionary bit about it ).

But most of all we discovered the joys of sex, of glamorous vamps and dancing girls. I look at the item numbers today and cannot get excited about a woman dancing among a hundred men and women who all look like they are at the gym!

 We were excited about the bare shoulders of Geeta Bali (Baazi,Albela) or Sheela  Ramani (Taxi Driver), the bare midriff, though not much of, Cuckoo (Andaz) or Meena Kumari  (in Baiju Bawra). There was Helen in film after film whether fully clothed, or with bits showing, taking us away into exotic realms – Anari , Howrah Bridge, Qaidi, and many others. The best item number as far as my generation is concerned is without doubt “Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal Chhed Gayo Re”. It is slow moving and you can watch Madhubala who does not move as if she is exercising. Even her accompanists are delightful. That is sexy Fifties’ style. Who cares if Mughal-e-Azam was released in 1960!

The only Great Star left is Dilip Kumar. He alone made the Fifties golden. He will be 90 this year. I look forward to 2022 when he hits his century.

Lord Meghnad Desai is one of the world’s leading economists, and author of Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar In The Life Of India