Aakash Chopra: Blessed as a commentator, wish got a quarter of it as a player

By Madhav SharmaFirst Published 27, Apr 2019, 3:03 PM IST
Highlights

Aakash Chopra said, 'Hindi is an evolving medium at the broadcasting level, and therefore, allows you to set new templates.' 
 

Aakash Chopra is one of the most popular and accomplished Hindi cricket commentators in India. His entertaining style of commentary, well-timed one-liners, and astute analysis have made him a favourite among Hindi viewers.

Recently, in a freewheeling discussion with MyNation, Chopra talked about Hindi commentary, its potential, his favourite co-commentators and the reasons behind his success as a Hindi commentator. Excerpts from the interview:

MyNation: What are the key differentiators or challenges setting Hindi commentary apart from English? 

Chopra: English commentary has been there for longer, and since cricket's original language is English, the template was set eons ago. It's both a good and bad thing, because while it allows you to understand the demands, it also forces you to stay within its framework. A few have tried to break the stereotype but not a lot. Hindi, on the other hand, is an evolving medium at the broadcasting level, and therefore, allows you to set new templates. The flip side is the lack of talent and its understanding of the medium. Like most things in life, both have advantages and disadvantages.

MyNation: According to the 2001 Census, 42.2 crore Indians speak Hindi or one of its dialects. That’s more than 40% of the country’s total population. Do you think Indian sports networks have been quite late in realising the potential of Hindi commentary? 

Chopra: Better late than never. Yes, it has taken some time to come this far, but the fact is that whenever it was attempted in the past, it was a half-hearted attempt. And therefore, it might not have resonated with the masses. The earlier idea of Hindi commentary was a poor cousin of English commentary with regard to the talent engaged, graphics and the presentation. 

Star India took the giant leap of faith in 2013 and decided that Hindi will no longer be playing second fiddle. Star India decided that will not be the lesser or dumbed down version of English broadcast and that seemed to have worked beautifully. Once the viewers started getting the same quality in the language of their preference, it didn't take time to switch to Hindi.  

MyNation: Some people argue that Hindi commentary is more about entertainment and one-liners than analysis. What are your views on this? 

Chopra: This can't be farther away from the truth. Yes, it's a lot of fun because the environment is always made conducive for more conversations around the game. Fun, at times, is understood by some as dumbing down of the game. Star has always made sure that the finer nuances of the game are never compromised for entertainment. In fact, we also understand that it's imperative for us to make people understand the game better, for that's the only way for them to enjoy it more. 

MyNation: How important is the ability to invent new vocabulary in Hindi commentary? 

Chopra: Since it's a visual medium, commentary plays the role of embellishing the pictures. Either celebrate what has happened or go into whys and hows of the action that viewers witness. That's where it's important to break down the action in pieces and communicate in a fashion/manner that can be easily understood. Hindi is a wonderful language and allows you to describe/express the same action in different ways if explored properly. Also, it's imperative to communicate in the version of Hindi that's palatable to the current generation. Language is a medium to express your opinions and therefore, the former must never supersede the latter. Opinions will always be at the top of the pyramid and language will always play the role of a facilitator. 

MyNation: It is said that Hindi commentary gives commentators a lot more freedom in terms of the way they go about having a discussion. Do you agree with this opinion? 

Chopra: Truth be told, I've never been instructed by my employer (Hindi or English) to refrain from discussing certain topics. Yes, I haven't done a lot of English commentary but even in my limited experience, I was never told that certain issues/topics were not to be approached/discussed.  

MyNation: You have had quite a few partnerships in the commentary box. But do you have a personal favourite when it comes to working with Hindi commentators? 

Chopra: While it's a pleasure working with most of my colleagues, since you've asked me to pick, I'll have to pick VVS Laxman and Kapil Paaji (Kapil Dev). I love both of them to bits and share a wonderful rapport in the comm-box. The best bit about in-box camaraderie is when you know what makes the other person tick and what to expect while asking a question. That said, I've learned a lot from people like Sanjay Manjrekar and listening to Tony Greig, Nasser Hussain, and Michael Atherton. 

MyNation: Last but surely not the least, what is the biggest reason behind your success as a Hindi commentator? Your fans and admirers keep showering their love at stadiums and also on social media. You have cracked the code, it seems. 

Chopra: I feel I am blessed to receive the kind of love I have over the past few years. To be honest, I didn't get even a quarter of this appreciation even in my playing days. Well, I don't know what has worked thus far, but I can only say that I am trying to do my job with utmost honesty. I love sports and breathe it every day. 

Perhaps, the passion I have for the sports comes across and that might have struck a chord with the audience. I also love exploring the wonderful language by using interesting phrases and a bit of wordplay. The Hindi commentary grammar is different from the English version, and therefore, it allows you to explore different aspects. 

Last but not the least, Sanjog Gupta at Star (the head of programming) advised me in my early years of broadcasting to be either prescriptive or predictive, for the visual medium isn't meant for descriptive commentary because people have already seen the action. I've understood its relevance and followed that principle since then. Therefore, you would find me with prescription or prediction and rarely, description. 

Last Updated 27, Apr 2019, 3:03 PM IST