The local touch in the commentary box

As the FIFA World Cup in Russia nears the climax, Sportstar correspondents deconstruct the essence of regional commentary and the funny bones attached.

Pallab Basu Mallik has been running the commentary show in Bengal for 40 years.   -  Special Arrangement

There is no dearth of drama in sports. A turnaround from dead, a century, an ace, hat-trick or a set-piece — these occurrences boost the stagecraft and presenters are hired to heighten the theatrics. Barry Davies’ simple “Oh Nooooo!” when England’s Gareth Southgate missed the penalty in the Euro 1996 semifinal against Germany still rings loud.

In the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Russia, Sony Pictures Network, as usual, spiced up the commentary box by throwing in a regional flavour. The regional languages — Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu — perhaps enhanced the tournament’s viewership to some extent; among people who only speak their vernacular.

As the World Cup nears the climax, Sportstar correspondents deconstruct the essence of regional commentary and the funny bones attached.

The Bong connection

Pallab Basu Mallik has been running the commentary show in Bengal for 40 years. His FIFA debut, in Bangla, happened in 2014. He was recalled for the U-17 World Cup last year, and in June, for the magnum opus in Russia.

The veteran believes commentators are more flexible these days keeping up to the changes in the game.

Being a FIFA-approved football medicine specialist, he understands the emotions and as a result, the vocabulary remains unscathed. “The language frame has changed. These days, people mix a lot of English when talking in Bengali or Tamil. You have to use certain technical terms for which you don’t have a proper vernacular. It is a mixed approach. You have to be with the people and the game. If you try to translate certain football terms in Bangla, it may turn out to be funny,” he told Sportstar.

Basu Mallik understands that it is not easy to please all viewers but he stressed on the need for humour. Phrases like ball ta pendulum er moto ghurchhe (the ball is swinging like a pendulum) and bhagyish pant dhore tanen ni (thank god, his pants weren’t pulled) while describing one of many Neymar’s falls as the opponent pulled his jersey became liners of the day. “Sense of humour is good unless personal to somebody. The telecast norms say you can’t use things that are political, derogatory and against ethnicities. We try to reflect what people discuss among themselves,” he added.

The Malayalam flavour

Football followers from Kerala might cheekily argue that the tournament may have peaked in the first week of the tournament in the form of Shaiju Damodaran — the Malayalam football commentator.

When Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo struck a sumptuous free-kick in the dying minutes to level the scores and complete his hat-trick against Spain in the opening group stage match, Shaiju's unique choice of words stood out.

Shaiju presented a version of Martin Tyler's emotion-filled cry before going on to describe the Portuguese talisman's genius. For instance, he used the catchphrase “Vanduten nu sollu.. Thirumba vandhutenu sollu.. Ronaldo da!" (Tell them I am back… Tell them I am back again… It’s Ronaldo!) from the Tamil movie Kabali to sum up the forward’s upturn in form.

Shaiju keeps himself updated with all the major stories developing during the tournament and he keeps his audience informed. The struggle endured by Croatia’s Luka Modric during his childhood is one such fable he narrated. “I do all research myself by reading all newspapers and news sites. I also watch Russia TV every day to get an idea of local stories for my audience,” Shaiju said.

It seemed like just another day in the commentary box for Shaiju Damodaran, but his description of Ronaldo’s goal shot him to national fame.   -  Special Arrangement


Few takers for Tamil

While Malayalam commentary had garnered spectacular attention after a video describing Cristiano Ronaldo's goal went viral, Tamil commentary did not have as many takers. The commentators resorted to using a lot of English words in their speech, which took away the essence of regional commentary. The use of phrases such as ‘False Nine’ would have left first time viewers utterly perplexed. Then there was also the intrusion of cricketing jargon, which was a major put off. A curling goal was described as an ‘Inswinging goal’, which didn't quite sound right.

However, on the plus side, the commentators offered insights about the players, the clubs they play for and a few snippets about their careers. Along with this were a few nuggets of trivia and some basic analysis of the teams’ tactics, which was informative.

The commentators have made an effort to make things more interesting, but however, still have to work on their pronunciation. Calling Blaise Matuidi “Matoodi” or Cristian Pavon “Pavan” is a little tough to digest.

Telugu, not as popular

While the other regional languages seem to have struck a chord with the fans, Telugu audience seem deprived.

The Telugu commentary panel seemed unprepared and lack of proper diction, expertise and wit compounded to the withdrawal of fans from listening to Telugu commentary.

While the commentators boasted of the prior experience, their lack of spontaneity was one of the reasons why the Telugu audience preferred to stay away from the regional feed.

A few fans also cited lack of clarity in thought process, pronunciation and choice of vocabulary was also a negative point. The commentators were unable to reproduce the magic created on the field with their voice.

If the grammar and pronunciation is frail, regional commentary could be quiet a rocket science. After all, people in India are sensitive about their roots.


-- Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya, Aashin Prasad, Shyam Vasudevan and Hari Kishore M

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