Thursday, 20 August 2009


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An anthem, almost

Ashish Saksena traces the fabulous history of the song, Din hai suhane, from Pehle Taarikh in an era when radio was king.

On 1 July, 2009, India woke up to the all new jingle of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate announcing Din hai suhana/ aaj pehli tarikh hai to catch the attention of Indian consumers. The campaign was all over newspapers, TV and radio.

Whether or not this jingle will turn into an anthem is yet to be seen but the advertisement, conceptualised by Ogilvy India and directed by Prasoon Pandey, has definitely caught the attention of the public. The original song, sung by Kishore Kumar, has been recreated by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and sung by Kshitij for this ad film. But this song is not something that was just discovered. It has had a fabulous history, which we must go back in time to, when radio was indeed king.

Colombo calling

It’s therefore time to revisit the clichéd story of David vs. Goliath. The story about how, a small and inconspicuous radio station, situated in Sri Lanka, ended up giving a mighty scare to the All India Radio (AIR), the national broadcaster of India. This station is what was then famously known as Radio Ceylon.

Radio Ceylon is the oldest radio station in Asia which started its test broadcast in 1923 and became a regular broadcaster in 1925, almost a decade before AIR came into being, in 1936.

Operating out of a transmitter, which was captured from a German submarine, it began its modest operation with the call sign, ‘Colombo Calling’.

Both India and Sri Lanka attained their freedom within six months of each other and both had the onerous task of popularising radio as the medium to reach the length and breadth of their respective countries.

Radio Ceylon, unlike the government-backed AIR, began modestly, by getting hold of good radio transmitters for free from British troops stationed in Sri Lanka after World War 2. Radio Ceylon used these equipments to set up Radio Ceylon’s overseas service, viz English service and Hindi service.

Therefore, we can say that in mid 1948, both AIR and Radio Ceylon were pretty much evenly perched with a job cut out for both of them to popularise the medium after being Independent.

No film music, no fun

But AIR faltered big time. Its then minister of information and broadcasting, BV Keskar, a patron of classical and folk music, chose to ban Indian film music from airing on AIR, despite the 1950s being a golden period for Indian film music.

There were representations made by film personalities to the government to reconsider their decision because it started impacting the business of their films as there were no means to popularise the songs and that in turn affected the sale of music LPs in the stores.

When the protests of the Indian film industry became loud, Radio Ceylon proactively jumped in to capitalise on this opportunity. People in India, who had access to Short-wave radios, caught the transmission of Radio Ceylon from across the border, which played the best of English, Hindi and Tamil music.

It was a glorious period for Radio Ceylon. Its popularity and reach could be judged from the statement made by Nirupama Rao, who has just been named as India’s foreign secretary, when she said that she heard The Beatles for the first time only on Radio Ceylon.

Also, the Shortwave Central blog mentions about Sir Edmund Hillary recalling that the first broadcast that he heard on the Himalayas after peaking Mount Everest was of Radio Ceylon, as it was the only English radio station that could be heard at that altitude.

Sensing the potential of a huge growth, Radio Ceylon formally launched the Hindi Service in 1950. It is believed that the station got a lot of clandestine support from the very strong Hindi film producer lobby that was looking for an outlet for their music. They went out of their way to help popularise Radio Ceylon in India. Soon enough, AIR began to feel the pinch of the in-roads made by Radio Ceylon into India and requisitioned the help of Pandit Narendra Sharma to start a programme that could combat Radio Ceylon on popularity. He started what is now famously known as Vividh Bharti in 1957.

Almost at the same time, Radio Ceylon brought in Vijay Kishore Dubey, who many years later retired as vice president of HMV, to formulate the full-blown Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon.

It however took AIR another two decades before it could ward off the threat of Radio Ceylon. But that is a story for another time.

Coming back to Aaj Pehli Taarikh Hai, while Vijay Kishore Dubey was conceptualising the programming for the Hindi Service, he came up with a rule that the programme Purani Filmo Ke Geet from 7:30 to 8 AM should end, without exception, by a song sung by K L Sehgal.

This was purported to be a cue for the younger listeners to know that the next programme called Aap Hi Ke Geet, at 8 AM, which featured all new songs, was about to air.

Not just a number

However, an exception to this rule was created on 1 January, 1954, when the film Pehle Tarikh, directed by Raja Nene, released in India. The film starred Raja Nene and Nirupa Roy.

But more than the film, what caught the attention of everyone was the song, Din Hai Suhaana/ aaj pehli taarikh hai. Qamar Jalalabadi wrote the song and is one of the longest songs ever written for a Hindi film. It was composed by Sudhir Phadke and mirrored the sentiments of the average middle class Indian.

The popularity of the song reached Vijay Kishore Dubey, and he was forced to break his rule.

On the first day of every month, the last song on Purani Filmo Ke Geet was not one by KL Sehgal, but this song from Pehli Taarikh, which played for month after month after month...for 33 consecutive years on Radio Ceylon.

(The writer is a media executive with an experience of over 12 years in the entertainment industry. He has worked with PVR Pictures and INOX Cinemas. He has extensive experience in film production, acquisition, distribution and programming. He has been writing regularly on cinema.)


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