A jukebox from the yesteryear

Sandhya Rao | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 22, 2017

Saregama Carvaan’s design and music collection are a blast from the past, but its features are contemporary

When music can so easily be downloaded for free without limits, why would anyone want to pay ₹5,990 for a box of preloaded songs packaged in a transistor-type contraption? You can listen to practically anything of your choice, even Ilayaraja, with the touch of a button. Then why this “perfect gift for your loved ones” from the RP-Sanjiv Goenka group?

The question is natural and logical. Every young person I shared details of the assignment with responded similarly. Quite honestly, though, it didn’t even cross my mind. And then I overheard another person of nearly my vintage speak animatedly about the music box to a couple of buddies, equally grey-haired. That’s when the gears engaged.

In the way that some of us bemoan the slow demise of the photo album, there are those who recall the time you switched on your transistor radio and listened to the news, to plays and discussions, to music, to film screenplays and to Binaca Geetmala. Wikipedia describes Binaca Geetmala as a “weekly radio countdown show” of Hindi film songs broadcast on Radio Ceylon from 1952 to 1988, and then on the Vividh Bharati service of All India Radio, where it ran till 1994. It was hosted by Ameen Sayani, arguably among the most beloved radio hosts anywhere in the world. His older brother, Hamid, hosted the Bournvita Quiz Contest on radio. Therefore, it wouldn’t be off-target to suggest that this product is essentially aimed at an older generation of music-lovers, those who grew up listening to the Sayanis, and whose entertainment options were the radio and the playground.

Old world

Saregama Carvaan smartly marries an old-world transistor radio with the ubiquitous devices of the present time such as a USB port, Bluetooth pairing, and FM stations, in a sort of four-in-one that presents various possibilities of musical delight.

Now, a technologically challenged individual might start panicking upon reading this description. For sure, I did, which is why I didn’t open the package for a whole week until my young editors lightly exerted some pressure. Luckily, the accompanying pamphlet explains the working of Carvaan simply and clearly and, with the appropriate counsel and encouragement, managing the knobs, the station selector, and various other options became a breeze. The four-in-one takes about two-three hours of charging; after that it plays without a hiccup for almost seven hours. That’s good performance by any standard. But the best thing is the sound. The volume range and clarity are superb. Of course, you don’t get the dhak-dhak bass that often emanates from passing vehicles, but that’s not the expectation here.

Geetmala throwback

The pre-recorded section comprises Geetmala, Moods and Artistes. It has a commentary by Ameen Sayani interspersed with songs and interviews played on the show from 1952. Sayani offers bytes of personal and other information. There are anecdotes, selections from stage shows, and comments from stars such as Nutan, Dev Anand, Begum Akhtar and others. Waheeda Rehman, for instance, comments on Dev Anand’s energy, about how he’d always be “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go”. “No wonder he never put on weight,” she says.

The only drawback in this section is that you get to hear only bits of popular songs, whereas the less-known ones are played in full. That’s disappointing. I also missed a pause button, until I discovered that you could ‘power-off’ quite comfortably because ‘powering-on’ again brought you right back where you had left off. Sayani’s insights are lucid, and his language, as always, fabulous.

The Moods section is divided into Happy, Ghazal, Shakti, Spiritual, Film Instrumental, Sufi, Hindustani Classical, Romance, and Sad. Romance is way and above the best with numbers such as Chalo dildar chalo, Lute koi mann ka nagar, Aaj phir jaane ki tamanna hai, Aa jaane jaa, Tere sur and Aur mere geet, Lag jaa gale… Hindustani classical features instrumental, mainly sitar, sarod and santoor. It’s a decent lesson in learning to distinguish one from the other as you listen to Maru Bihag, Bageshwari, Lalit, Tilak Kamod and the like. Overall, though, the song selection in Moods and Artistes leaves a lot to be desired.

The Artistes category features 23 lyricists, singers and music directors — a pebble in the ocean of Hindi film music. Among them are Sahir Ludhianvi, Anand Bakshi, Kaifi Azmi/Javed Akhtar (together, I don’t know why), Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, Hemant Kumar/Geeta Dutt (together), Talat Mahmood, SD and RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Hearing Gulzar recite some of his poems is a treat. The display panel tells you what song’s playing, and the Next/Previous buttons help you move on if you don’t like a particular number, or you want to listen again. A detailed list of titles would have been really useful. Besides, there are some repeats.

These three categories can be accessed through the Saregama button. But you can also download all your favourites on a pen drive, insert it into the USB port at the back of the set, and press the USB button to get going. There’s also the possibility of connecting via Bluetooth. I listened to an old-time favourite, ‘ To Sir With Love’ by Lulu, and the sound was great. The fourth option is radio — only FM stations though.

Easy to operate

Yes, this four-in-one is easy to use. If you don’t mind being subjected to a lot of pedestrian stuff, go for the pre-recordings. If you’d like to engage your mind as well, listen to Geetmala. If you have a special ear, there’s USB and Bluetooth. And if you like listening to RJs Sano, Syed and gang, or to Vividh Bharati, well, there’s the radio. Basically, it’s all bases covered.

It’s the old-timers who will really enjoy this gift. Still, I would invite young people to listen to the Geetmala section at least, if only to understand what a good host can do for radio.

So, yes, Saregama Carvaan, on the whole, seems to work.

Price: ₹5,990 (without remote), ₹6,990 (with remote)

Pros: Great sound, easy to use, nostalgic value

Cons: Collection could have been better, no pause button can irk some

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Published on November 22, 2017
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