A typical fan experience at VIVO Pro Kabaddi involves not just getting to watch an exciting match but also walking away with the thrill of having encouraged and cheered for your favourite team and players as they give their all on the mat. Continuing our series on what goes on behind the scenes of the league, prokabaddi.com recently caught up with emcee Sunny Khandelwal to get his VIVO Pro Kabaddi story. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Tell us about your role in VIVO Pro Kabaddi.
I am the anchor, the emcee for crowd interactions during the game. Watching a kabaddi match has to be an electrifying experience for the audience and we are, in a large way, responsible for providing them with that experience. The match itself may start at 8 pm but our work starts from 7 pm. We have to engage the crowd, get some excitement going, make them feel comfortable and pump them up for the matches to follow. It is an absolute challenge to keep up with those 3 hours of non-stop energy as an emcee and it takes a lot out of you. But we are extremely thrilled and happy to do it.
You have been a part of VIVO Pro Kabaddi before. How does this season compare to the previous seasons?
This season is far more intense, yet there is a lot of excitement. The home leg of each team is extremely elaborate. We need to keep ourselves pumped with energy and have the crowd on our side. We try and bring some new, innovative ways to interact with the crowd in order to keep kabaddi fans coming back for more. As performers, we do not want the audience to see the same show day after day. I believe that if we have the crowd on our side we can make a difference for the home team. You could also call us the eighth player for the home team, even though we are not actually playing. We have been to cities like Ranchi and Lucknow this year which are quite different from metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai. So we have to change our goal with every week.
Since every city has a different mind-set, what kind of research goes into the chants that you come up with?
The chants which we come up with are the most popular lingos in each city. We try to capitalise on whatever is the popular lingo, the style of talking, the attitude of the crowd coming to the stadium and of the city in general. A lot of it depends on the team anthems. Every team has their own anthem with their own punch lines. I pick powerful lines from the anthem of that particular city and use them during the game. Imagine you are going for a raid and you have, say, 5,000 people backing you up; it will push you even further to get a point.
How does kabaddi compare with the other sports which you have covered?
There is no comparison at all. Kabaddi is a different ball game so we need to change our role as per the sport. We cannot compare other leagues with VIVO Pro Kabaddi. There is a difference in the crowd that comes for the matches, the sport and the players. We need to keep up with the sport and do what it demands.
Does it get frustrating sometimes if the crowd does not respond to you?
It can but ideally it shouldn’t. As an artist I wouldn’t want to get affected if the crowd doesn’t respond. I need to go on with my work since there are expectations set by the home team, the players and the league. We need to live up to those more than the expectations the crowd has from us. These are elements which can hinder an individual or an artist but personally I don’t let it affect me. If it starts affecting me then my energy reduces and you might see the difference when I walk out to perform, which is unacceptable. We need to perform our best every single day.
How do you keep the same level of motivation day in, day out?
It is not easy but it gets a little easier because there are two people. So Rakesh (the other emcee) and I shuffle ourselves up. We try to keep our dates, our routine going so that we can keep living up to the expectations of the crowd when required.