x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Behind the scenes with Radio Mirchi's morning duo

Step into any taxi and the chances are the driver will be tuned to Radio Mirchi, the station with the infectious mix of Hindi music and Bollywood gossip. What's it like behind the scenes?

Morning show producer and news presenter Maliha Mumtaz took up the job as Radio Mirchi's news reader five months ago. Silvia Razgova / The National
Morning show producer and news presenter Maliha Mumtaz took up the job as Radio Mirchi's news reader five months ago. Silvia Razgova / The National

When Aashi Jain and Maliha Mumtaz are chatting in the same room, it's almost impossible for a bystander to catch what they're saying, let alone join in the conversation.

Rarely a sentence is spoken by one that is not interrupted by the other, or drowned out by their raucous giggles.

But as soon as the light above their heads changes from green to red, the giggling and incessant chatter stop and it's down to business.

RJ Aashi, as she is known to her listeners, presents Radio Mirchi's flagship Mirchi Morning show between 6am and 11am every weekday, and her friend and colleague Maliha reads the news every hour.

"We have a lot of fun," Aashi says. "There are many days we come in and work in our pyjamas. I don't even brush my hair! But we try to get ready before other people come in."

Aashi, 29, moved from Radio Mirchi in Mumbai - one of 35 cities in India where it broadcasts - to join the UAE station when it was launched in February last year (by Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National).

She has been presenting for more than 10 years and is one of the station's favourites.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the culture in Radio Mirchi," she says. "The comforting fact was that a group of people came to Abu Dhabi all together so it was new for all of us. There was a team of about 10 or 12 that all landed together.

"We went through all the drills together - getting the Emirates ID card, getting the driving licence, all the things that are totally new."

Maliha, 27, was born and brought up in Dubai and moved to Abu Dhabi five months ago when she took the job as news reader.

She had spent the past decade working in radio stations in Dubai after landing a job doing voiceovers and reading news when she was just 17.

She travelled to Ajman every morning to read news while studying marketing and human resources in the evenings at the Emirates Centre for Management and Information Technology.

As soon as she turned 18, she was given a paid slot on the morning show.

"I'm so not a morning person," Maliha grins. "But ever since I was 17 I've started my work at 6am. I've never worked any other time. I don't know how I've managed to do it.

"But I do love my job, I've always been a journalist and reporter. My mum's a doctor and my father did his masters in literature and economics so I've been encouraged from an early age to learn about what's happening around the world.

"But I never imagined doing early news. I've always been a crazy party animal, joking around, making fun of people. When my friends hear me they say, 'This isn't you'. Of course I can't be jolly about a blast in a certain country."

Maliha and Aashi have great chemistry on and off air, despite having worked together for less than a year.

"I met Aashi on my first day and realised we both loved one thing, actually two: eating and talking," Maliha says. "It's been really good since then. We work well together, but we're also friends. We just click."

Radio Mirchi's's target audience are Hindi speakers - mirchi is Hindi for chilli pepper, and "It's hot!" is the station's slogan - and its presenters speak mostly Hinglish, a mixture of Hindi and English. "We try to use a combination of the two," Aashi says. "In general, people of my age prefer to speak Hinglish, a mix of the languages.

"To be honest, people of my generation don't alway have proper Hindi because they go to international schools where everyone speaks English and they're with Americans and Brits and Australians. Or they watch English television.

"You can't always speak in proper Hindi because they wouldn't understand it."

Music and movies, predominantly those from Bollywood, are the station's bread and butter. Each week it produces its list of Top 20 songs that apply to all the Radio Mirchi stations.

Fortunately for Aashi the Mirchi Morning producer, Arkus, is something of a Bollywood and Hollywood expert.

"I'm not saying it's a mandate, but if you love movies and music, and you love talking about them, it helps a lot. Luckily for us, Arkus knows everything about Bollywood films," Aashi laughs.

Arkus also moved to Abu Dhabi, giving up his job in advertising in Kolkata to produce the morning show.

"I had seven rounds of interviews," he says. "A mass email had gone round our old college and I applied. I've always loved films. It's my passion."

When off-air, Aashi's voice isn't instantly recognisable, but as soon as she's live, the tone and intonation changes and she has the perfect "radio voice".

She's bubbly and excitable and seems to execute her lines perfectly, regardless of what's going on around her.

Her morning show is dominated by music, but the team also choose a newsy topic each day to engage the listeners. It can be anything from rising rents to the death of a popular Bollywood star.

"It's really important here, with the population, that we find things that are interesting to people," Aashi says. "It's not just about the music. We go through the local news and the national news, as well as the news in India and Pakistan, and try to figure out what is the most relevant. It's a big team effort.

"And of course you have to know about cricket. You have to know your stats and your players and everything about the game, not just Indian cricket.

"Those are the three main things in the job: music, movies and cricket. If you know about them, you'll be fine."



Radio Mirchi is on 97.3FM in Abu Dhabi, 88.8FM in Dubai and 95.6FM in Al Ain.