It is 9pm and the all-day upbeat tempo on Radio Mirchi UAE gives way to retro music from Bollywood movies spanning the years from the 1950s to the 1980s. The airwaves come alive with golden oldies, punctuated by the deep baritone voice of R J Fahad Hussain.
The radio station, owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which also publishes The National, launched the show Purani Jeans (Old Jeans) four years ago, with the UAE’s South Asian audience in mind. It has built a loyal fan base, thanks in part to Hussain’s penchant for Urdu poetry, a mainstay of Bollywood lyrics.
One of the show’s biggest fans is 24-year-old Emirati Fahad Al Marri, who tunes in every night.
“R J Fahad’s voice is what attracted me to the show,” says Al Marri, an account manager at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, who is well versed in Hindi and Urdu.
“I know it’s funny for a 24-year-old Emirati to say this but, nowadays, Bollywood songs are very noisy. There is too much ‘music’ now. The classics used to focus more on the lyrics.”
Hussain’s knowledge of retro Bollywood music belies his age – the 34-year-old has built his expertise in the past 10 years, hosting the evening slow-jam slot at radio stations in India and Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a reference to your oldest jeans, your favourite jeans, which feel like a second skin,” says Hussain, explaining how the show got its name. “And that’s what the show offers – a strong feeling of familiarity.
“There are old songs that are lyrically captivating, the kind you find yourself humming all the time. Then there are the conversations and memories that these songs usually evoke.” Hussain describes his interaction with listeners as “a couple of friends sitting around with a cup of chai and reminiscing about the past”. “Your childhood, college days, pranks and first love. And the songs we pick become that excuse.”
Hussain’s office at the Radio Mirchi studio in Abu Dhabi is stacked with biographies of legendary Indian actors and artists. They are his first point of reference for the titbits that he shares with listeners every night.
“My producer and I spend hours reading them and extracting anecdotes that we know will appeal to our audience,” he says.
Hussain, from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, says the radio was constantly on when he was growing.
“I come from a semi-orthodox Muslim family – we weren’t allowed to watch a lot of TV or cinema,” he says. “The only source of music was from the radio stations that my Bade Abba [uncle] used to listen to while lounging on the veranda.”
Hussain’s show often takes an unscripted turn when listeners call in to share their memories.
“Sometimes we commemorate the birth or death anniversary of a famous artist by dedicating a show to them, but otherwise we just go with the flow,” he says.
A surgeon once told Hussain that he often has the show playing in the background in the operating theatre. “I found that weird, but it felt good as well that this resonates with them.”
Indian expat Salman Masood, a regular listener, has a special memory of the show. The 57-year-old civil engineer from Abu Dhabi grew up singing Kishore Kumar songs at school.
“When I was asked to share a personal story connected to Kumar on Purani Jeans, I told them about the time I went to meet a prospective bride – now my wife – and her family for dinner,” he says. “They asked me to express my feelings with a song, so I sang Humein Tumse Pyar Kitna (How Much Do I Love You) from the 1981 film Kudrat. Everyone cheered and [my proposal was] immediately accepted.”
Hussain says moments like that make the show a success.
“Purani Jeans is for people who work here and are happy to be here, but miss their home, traditions and culture. We like to hold their hand and take them back in time to their town, village or city,” he says.
Purani Jeans is on Radio Mirchi UAE from 9pm every evening in Abu Dhabi (97.3FM), Dubai (88.8FM) and Al Ain (95.6FM)
Source: art & life