Of prejudice, and a great radio show: U P Ki Kahaniyaan

Neelesh Misra. Pic courtesy nileshmisra.com

Some time back, I had tweeted without thought. Without pondering. Just on the basis of a 30-second radio spot, I decided that I wouldn’t like the show it was promoting, and wrote that the presenter and his show deserved to be pushed to the graveyard shift where it would help insomniacs, etc, and that the show was a 15-minute speedbreaker in the station’s drive prime. Then, ten minutes later, it 8.45 PM — time for the show, and it began to play out. It was playing out on an FM Radio Network I have grown to like.

Like most people, I love music, and again, like most, my musical tastes and preferences have been formed over a lifetime of listening and reacting instinctively to and staying with the kind of music that appealed to me. And, of course, scouring into every new musical horizon to find new kinds of music, new sounds.

Golden Music

And when one’s talking about music on FM Radio, make that read Golden Hindi Music — the best sung, the best written, the best musically-arranged and above all, the best composed, with tunes that sit just below the epidermis of your conscious mind; in fact, cling, limpet-like, to your soul.

And if there is one FM Radio station that has gone ahead and redefined itself and actually challenged and hurled overboard like garbage the former status quo of playing out mindless new songs with eminently forgettable scores ad nauseam, that station has got to be BIG FM. It suits my musical tastes perfectly, playing out great, memorable Hindi film music, presented conversationally by presenters who aren’t in a tearing big hurry. But of late, regrettably, due to its popularity, the morning and evening drive primes on BIG FM have a few too many ad campaigns for my liking, thereby reducing the number of songs actually played out per hour.

So, primarily because of the music it plays, and the presentation style of the RJs (barring perhaps one and a half presenters) it’s become and remained a personal favourite. (However, to be fair, the Apurva Purohit-led Radio City has always played plenty of beautiful, handpicked Golden Hindi film songs over the years – way back, they had the highest percentage of retro music… around 35 to 40% of their music played out was retro Hindi film, and even today Gaurav with the sing-song “Sunata hoon WO gaane jo CHHOO lein AAPka mann!” tagline, still holds forth pretty interestingly weeknights on Radio City. But it is BIG FM that’s decided to go fully retro.)

Fake-sounding ‘speedbreaker’?

OK, now back to that hasty tweet. It was at around 8.30 pm or so, during Dilip’s evening drive prime show on BIG FM, that I caught this spot promoting an upcoming show. A 15-minuter, that was to play out from 8.45 pm to 9 pm, called U.P. Ki Kahaaniyaan, with Neelesh Misra. The spot featured Neelesh Misra introducing himself, and the first thing I immediately decided I didn’t like, was his articulation. It seemed like he was breaking his voice in super-tragic fashion. Sounded like he fancied himself as a tragic Dilip Kumar – and I’d made up my mind on that count by the time he spoke-croaked his first sentence: “Dosto, mera naam hai Neelesh Misra-aah!” Why can’t he converse instead of ‘tragically’ over-acting into the mike, I thought. By the time the promo was over, I felt that even in sharing information about a program, he had added a palpable tragic, broken-hearted, sad-about-the-world croak to the edge of his voice. He sounded like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders while speaking. And the drama, I concluded, sounded fake.

So hasty was I in jumping to that conclusion, that I overlooked the fact that that just might well be the natural way Neelesh Misra speaks. And under the cloud of the I-don’t-like-his-voice-he’s-faking-it mood, I only heard the way he spoke, without listening to what he was saying.

And decided and tweeted he was the perfect answer to the insomniac – that his measured, broken-hearted narrative of some small-town story was a terrible speed-breaker to the entertainment Dilip’s show was providing. Destroyed the mood of the show, I felt.

From the heart

Then, since I have been weaned on Hawa Mahal all my life, I decided to listen to the show. UP Ki Kahanaaiyaan. Bang in the middle of evening drive prime – OK, perhaps towards the fag end of it, from 8.45 pm to 9 pm. That would definitely be a sore point between Ad Sales and Programming, but BIG FM probably said let’s give the listeners a completely different entertainment experience – fiction. Not a drama or radio play on the lines of Akashwani’s amazing Hawa Mahal which I still remember, but in a different form. A story about real people, based in a city or town of UP, like Kanpur, Bijnor, Hardoi, some tiny hamlet in Bundelkhand, often caught between head and heart in circumstances that tease, challenge or even torment them, putting them in a quandary, forcing them to break free or crumble – the kind of choices most people face today.

Truly evocative

And I discovered that as soon as I could push my first, prejudiced, jaundiced assessment of Neelesh Misra’s narration delivery aside, I walked into a world of sweet, first-language spoken Hindustani, so rarely heard today it was music to my good-Hindi-starved ears here in Mumbai. Neelesh deftly evoked the sights and sounds of a small town in UP, ‘showed’ me with his words and delivery the perplexed, puzzled faces of his main characters caught in the throes of some personal dilemma… the scared state of mind of a once-flourishing batasha-maker staring penury and ruin due to a continually falling demand for his bataashe… basic, simple, emotions in simple stories of the human heart and aspirations.

Neelesh Misra. Pic courtesy neeleshmisra.com
Neelesh Misra. Pic courtesy neeleshmisra.com

I realized Nilesh Misra’s show is something I want my kids and my friends to listen to. To savour, enjoy and internalize the lovely spoken Hindi – each word apt and irreplaceable in beautifully spoken sentences. I subsequently spoke with Neelesh Misra on the phone, and realized that his warm and grainy voice does naturally breaks ever so slightly at the end of every second word. It is a warm, sunny voice, and in the same slightly nasal voice — because he exhales from way down near the solar and the nose comes elegantly into Hindi play —  he asked me with disarming simplicity if I really thought he spoke with a put-on edge.

I still say, just turn the dial slightly – ever so slightly — low on the ‘tragic’ delivery. Ok, not tragic, maybe, but it does seem a little tired. Don’t make the narration of the story – and its enjoyment by the listener – a ‘sad’ experience. I don’t want creeping up my mind the foreboding that tragedy is about to unfold. And it is at stark variance from the mood of a lovely, happily-ended story about an engineer who returns from Saudi Arabia to his home in a small UP town. The family lights up, his holiday ends quickly in a maze of little happy-together events, and ultimately, it is time for him to return. When he is leaving his family to return to Saudi, he stops, literally mid-stride, drawn by the mute, wistful appeal in the eyes of his old father, mother and the rest of his loving family, and turns back, surrendering to his aching heart that doesn’t permit him to leave his loving, doting family. He has decided to stay back in his home town, and be with the family. Not only a really heart-warming end to the story, but also a significant subtle message for the youth of today.

So, listen to this show. It is a real speed breaker from the humdrum of radio jockeys (hate the word) driving locals or wrapping jaded forgettable new “breaking music” with inanities, boss! Or some other forgettable stuff. Oh, and the stories Nilesh presents are studded with interesting, evergreen Hindi songs. Of course, Neelesh, whose stories are beautifully and economically etched, will always have to struggle to fit a good Hindi song with the exact mood at the point he breaks the narration for the music, but the songs are melodious, memorable tunes. Punctuating great Hindi stories. In lovely Hindi.

Don’t want much more.

Glad that we have presenters like Neelesh Misra around, and am doubly glad that his ilk have such an amazing window to spread the goodness – I mean a network like BIG FM that’s put his stories, like I said, bang in drive prime.

Which is why, this apology was due. To myself for having been so hasty as to have deprived myself of the opportunity of listenting to and enjoying many more stories narrated by Nilesh. And to Nilesh and his craft.

Glad that we have presenters like him around, and am doubly glad that his ilk have such an amazing window to spread the goodness – I mean a network like BIG FM that’s put his stories, like I said, bang in drive prime.

BIG FM should spread the ‘word’

I think BIG FM Marketing should step in push these delightful Hindi narratives, even with the songs edited out, to every School in India that teaches Hindi. There are very cheap digital pipelines of delivery, but this one gesture to students to hear and learn how good Hindi is spoken, will help them in the studies and also entertain them.

Each story is the kind you can enjoy with the entire family. Narrated by someone whose knowledge and love of the language will hopefully infect every listener. And BIG FM should push out XYZ Ki Kahaniyaan for all its stations across each state.

What do you think?


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