The euphoria that VIVO Pro Kabaddi has enjoyed in Season 5 is unprecedented. With the league touching new heights and reaching newer milestones every week, some credit also goes to the contribution of scores of people working behind the scenes or alongside the superstars of the game.
TV anchors are one of them. They not only increase the entertainment quotient but also bring out the funnier side of players. From handling impromptu situations to following instructions in the blink of an eye, the task of an anchor is as challenging as any other.
In an exclusive interview with prokabaddi.com, TV anchor Mantra Dasgupta, face of VIVO Pro Kabaddi from the very first season, opened up on his association with the league besides discussing the nuances of his job in detail. Here are some excerpts.
What are your thoughts on Season 5 of Vivo Pro Kabaddi?
Season 5 is five times bigger and it’s not just because of the number but compared to what I saw when the first season started... I was there on the opening night. I remember that we were very anxious and nervous whether or not this sport will be accepted. We were confident but at the same time nervous because it is our baby who was delivered by all of us. So, Season 5 is as good as a baby who has grown five years old and we are very happy about it. He is a strong baby who is eating well and growing well.
When VIVO Pro Kabaddi started, did you ever think it will break all TRPs in just three years?
When I started in the first season, everyone was confident of what it will turn into. We knew it would be accepted but we never thought it will turn into such a roaring success. Like I said, it’s our baby and the whole world is watching our child grow. The world enjoys watching this especially in India because it is said that you don’t need to teach a fish how to swim and you don’t need to teach an Indian kabaddi. It’s in our blood and that’s the reason why India accepted VIVO Pro Kabaddi with open arms and gave so much love.
How is the equation within the anchors off the mat?
I take a lot of pride in being the face of VIVO Pro Kabaddi. I take a lot of pride in being the first anchor and in being here from the first season. Vrajesh Hirjee and I are inseparable now. His wife says that we are married and a lot of people think the same. I have a lot of respect for him because I have grown up watching him and I totally love and adore him. I am honoured that he does the same in return. There is so much mutual respect. Our chemistry shows on the screen and most importantly our love for kabaddi. If we didn’t love kabaddi then it wouldn’t have shown. Sachin Kumbhar is like our mistress because he is always in the middle (laughs).
It’s a long season and you have to be there every day, so does this create more pressure on you?
This year VIVO Pro Kabaddi has broken all the barriers and has become the longest league across all sports in India. Yes, it is stressful and a lot of hard work. There is a lot of travelling but because of my love for kabaddi the stress doesn’t show because when you enjoy what you do it doesn’t make you tired.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for an anchor in VIVO Pro Kabaddi?
I have been a stage anchor and a television anchor for most of the time in my career. I have done many TV shows as well but sports anchoring is completely different. When it comes to sports anchoring it is absolutely a different ball game because it is live and you really have to deal with a lot of instructions live. I have mentioned it to my co-anchors as well that how you look, how good is your vocabulary, it all comes second. The first and most important thing is that whether you are technically capable of speaking while being spoken to.
How difficult was it to initially connect with the audience because the rules and the format are totally different from a normal kabaddi game?
There is a difference between kabaddi and VIVO Pro Kabaddi. It is almost a new sport designed for television and that’s the reason we have a 30-second raid, we have do-or-die raids and lots of changes made accordingly. It is almost like if you know the numbers we can teach you calculations, so we don’t have to start from the beginning. People knew what kabaddi was. So it wasn’t a major change. The change was that it became a very television-friendly game.
Have you ever played kabaddi?
Kho-Kho and kabaddi were an integral part of my childhood. I actually aspire to become a kabaddi player. I actually train with the VIVO Pro Kabaddi teams. So when they come for their practice I join them. I see what they do. You really need to be strong and fit for this sport. It’s not just going to the gym and that’s it. It’s basically like a wrestler’s game.
What would you like to be, a raider or a defender?
I am an all-rounder for sure. I love taking bonus points and I am learning the tricks for that. I think I can be a bonus king amongst anchors. It all depends on the lower half of the body. So your lower body really needs to be strong to get bonus points.
Who is your favourite team?
The team changes every season, so I cannot relate to a particular team. But when it comes to favourite players... actually most of them are friends now. I have friends who I am very close to. Mohit Chhillar is a very good friend. Anup Kumar is a gem of a person and I love him. I am very good friends with Nilesh Shinde, Rohit Rana and I have been in touch with him off the mat also. Another friend is Surender Nada with whom I am very close. So now I have friends in the kabaddi fraternity and I wish them all the best.
Tell us the funniest anchoring moment for you.
When we do a team announcement, we are off the camera but our voices are heard. So I and Vrajesh Hirjee were hosting one of the matches and at the time when the team announcement was about to happen, I forgot which team I was supposed to call. So I was doing hand gestures and was asking Vrajesh which team it was. He couldn’t explain which team it was, so he started acting like a bull. I actually went on air laughing at the time of announcing the team. My boss started screaming at me and I said ‘sorry sir I couldn’t help it because Vrajesh is a very funny guy’.
As you have spoken to almost every player in the league, help us find the rightful heirs to the following epithets.
Mr Popular – Rahul Chaudhari is ‘the’ popular guy and Manjeet Chhillar comes next.
Mr Shy – Pardeep Narwal but I think Maninder Singh is even shyer.
Mr Serious – Manjeet Chhillar.
Mr Funny – Jasvir Singh, Manpreet Singh (coach of Gujarat), Rohit Kumar and Rohit Rana.
Mr Insightful – Manpreet Singh gives a very good insight, Surjeet Singh from Bengal Warriors, Anup Kumar, Sandeep Narwal and Rajesh Mondal as well.
Do you have any message for kabaddi fans?
I have received a new identity in the last three years. They call me Kabaddi Mantra now. So thank you for giving kabaddi so much love and thank you for accepting me as a part of kabaddi.