Cricket, not so lovely cricket

Sachin Tendulkar : no Mandira shot in the arm — that caught and bowled .— Pic. AP-

THE April Pitch Report is that cricket commentary is back to `Rectangle One' with the return of STAR.

THE April Pitch Report is that cricket commentary is back to `Rectangle One' with the return of STAR. Now that our Sonymphet is finally off monitor, do we miss Bedi with her bounty? A full 54% of men viewers, STAR struck, strangely don't. But do 46% of women watchers still hanker for Mandira? Going by that percentage `Outlook' Cover positioning — picturing Mandira rubbing shapely shoulders with readers even while a warplane is spotted hovering in the background? "Make love, not war!" was the `Bediva' message here. As a Telly Diva, how does it feel to be in the spotlight through six super glossy weeks? To be `The Real Mandira' during the World Cup was to witness the small screen `sex-objectify' her as never before. To be `The Reel Mandira' in the syrupy `Kyunkii Saas Bhii Kabhi Bahu Thii' serial is to get back, with a thud, to studio earth.

With the seasoning of 50 years on the movie beat, I say that it is far from easy to come to terms with stardom surrendered overnight. It does something to your metabolism. For a few weeks after such sudden TV demythifying, it feels great to have everyone, in the street, recognising you as `The Sony Girl'. Then the hollowness of it all sinks into a thinking Cathedral person like Mandira. It needs a remarkably level head to get back to normal everyday routine — accepting having been put, on a Sony pedestal, as just a one-time happening thing in your life.

Remember Mandira is still comparatively raw on the silver screen. She is no Raveena — trendily to take a Vijeta-wedding Rahul in stride. Mandira, for her Sony part, is on another wicket altogether. Until the World Cup materialised, `Man' was a struggling actress caught between the extremities of the Big Screen and the Little Screen. Her title telly role as `Shanti' certainly gave Mandira the feel of what it is to be an idol. Could the small-time dismay — following the tapering-off of that `Shanti' teleserial — have mentally prepared Mandira for the nosedive into harsh reality that the illusory World Cup held in Sony chainstore for her?

No way! It is amazing how a star performer begins to feel she is on velvet again — for the rest of her screen life — when something like the World Cup sends her soaring high up like a Sourav six. The heady setting is such that the captive presenter begins to think that, on TV, there is only a Tonight, no Tomorrow. Ma Rithambara does serve as a belated warning with the cards she has `The Presenter' unwittingly picking in favour of Australia. But the wishful thinking here is that Ma Rithambara has been wrong before. Not until things start going awry in the first of India's 50 overs itself does `The Telly Presence' begin to envision the whole caboodle to be ending in a chilling anticlimax.

How much more upward would the Mandira career-curve have been, if Sourav's India had, somehow, turned the dinner tables on Ricky's Australia? Mandira then would certainly have had film-makers eating out of her mike-holding hand. Makers viewing her as the Instant Role Model for the Indian Screen. But once India crashed conclusively, Mandira too lost decisively. `Spot' recognition Mandira still had in plenty. But such ready recognition just does not spot translate into mainstream roles that matter on the marquee. Mandira thus remains on the visual periphery — like Ruby. It was a baseball point `Cana<147,1,7>dian' Ruby made (on the now defunct English `Star News') when she observed that her style of selling cricket is just what the viewer ordered. Ruby interposed that "no telewatcher really wants a post-mortem of the game he's already absorbed in every detail''.

Likewise, love it or hate it, the Bedi Dame did leave her own airy-fairy impact. Mandira's `conservative' men critics were legion. Still they clandestinely admired her guts in staying plushly put — alongside a litany of cricket experts. A lovely deftly neutralising the obstreperous Charu each time he failed to give her a leg up. Mandira even had Mark Nicholas coming through as the Occidental commentator with a third eye for Oriental beauty. Astonishingly, `Man' had quite a few young women visibly resenting the projection she got. These young ladies argued that Mandira, essentially, was a Plain Jane dolled up for the occasion.

But the occasion is what Mandiratified her odd-woman-out presence on that Sony Panel. Mandira happily had Sri, ever there, to trivialise the game in just the lipstick shades she wanted. If in the shade one Donna tried to put her, Mandira (as the tender gender bender) pretended to take no enlightening notice. Mandira certainly knew a little more about the game than did Ruby. Yet came up with a Bradman quote of which no one had ever heard! Wonder if this was someone trying to chivvy her vis-a-vis The Don.

The done thing it became for Mandira to turn up with the game gaffe. The philistine Sony audience adored her for this. Cricket in Mandira's diaphanous custody became a game that involved female form as much as batting form. Do we miss Mandira, now that the STAR appeal of cricket commentary is again totally `mere male' oriented? `The Balle Balle Boys' with a difference are Navjot and Maninder on STAR. The Sardarni of Commentators, in her own savvy way, was Mandira on Sony. There will be another World Cup, to be sure. But there will not be Mandira again. If only because bats newly heaving bring with them bosoms freshly heaving.