Who would invite the world to a savage leg-pulling session with friends? Of all people, India’s top cricketers.
The other day, those perpetually shielded by dark glasses, handlers, agents and equipped to the teeth to avert any attempt to invade their privacy opened the doors of their rooms to fans, and even others. They allowed anyone with an internet connection to be the fly on the wall when they dropped guard and spoke about anything and everything.
On a non-match day, probably to ward off the boredom of a long tour, Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Rohit Sharma connected on Insta Live. Having shared rooms, meals and experiences for years now, they took liberties, didn’t take offence and winked when cracking inside jokes. They were a riot.
Pant and Surya would form a tag team and tease Chahal. “Why you always butter Rohit,” would be their constant taunt. The leggie would counter Surya, asking him why he goes silent when the India and Mumbai Indian skipper is around. Rohit would have the rest in splits with his suggestive query about Chahal’s whereabouts the night before and his weary eyes.
Realising they weren’t quite in their bubble unseen by the world, the players, after a while, started showing restraint. It started with Surya hanging out his tongue on uttering a word that’s mostly heard in web series about gangsters in Uttar Pradesh.
Rohit almost blurts out a Chahal anecdote but stops himself. “I remember a story but I wouldn’t say it here,” he says. One almost felt like an uninvited guest, an intrusive presence at a private party.
Wasn’t the voyeuristic gaze of millions curtailing the free-flowing conversation between Rohit and his jolly men? Weren’t they better off chatting on a group call? Definitely yes.
The social media handlers of these high-profile influencers would beg to differ. Those in the game of likes, retweets and followers need to constantly be on the timelines of the millions who follow them. They need to engage them, make them stay invested.
And this isn’t easy. They need to walk the extra mile, throw open a few windows, give a sneak-peek into the overprotected bubbles they live in.
The reason reality shows involving stars top TRPs rankings globally is the insatiable urge of the masses to catch the celebrities they admire and adore in their candid avatar. So used to cliched press conference quotes and PR-monitored interviews, fans lap up anything that’s remotely real. The realisation that the stars are exactly like us, and even have the same vocabulary, is both endearing and uplifting.
A stray comment caught by the stump microphone or a little private moment at a net session captured by a fan’s mobile phone often turn into viral content.
Earlier this month, an on-field clip, with audio attributed to Hardik Pandya, got endlessly forwarded. He sounded exactly like a street cricketer irritated by a distracted team mate.
Barely a minute long, the short video would get dissected and presented as evidence of the apparent leadership intrigue in the Indian dressing room. What is said in the heat of the moment, always has a ring of truth to it. It gives a better idea of the situation and the person and thus is more trustworthy.
Pressured for online numbers and hits, the social media departments of teams – national and IPL franchises – have been entering hitherto private spaces. Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting’s dressing room speeches, Rajasthan Royals treasure hunt in the team hotel, and Royal Challengers Bangalore stars belting out team songs have trended during the IPL season.
How it was done earlier
Even before social age started to define and dictate lives of stars, there have been attempts to monetise footage from out-of-bounds areas. Once during the 2006 Champions Trophy, a few of us reporters ventured to the training areas at the Motera Stadium on match eve. That was the time when the Indian dressing was a simmering pot of dissent with the ladle in the hands of then coach Greg Chappell.
Unusually, the coach gathered the team – that had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly – not far from the boundary rope. His tongue-lashing could easily reach the sharp ears of the media group.
With the loud and acrimonious coach talk appearing in newspapers the next day, Dravid, the then skipper, would be critical of the ‘ground report’. A few years later, Chappell’s hard talk with the seniors would be seen in a documentary. The coach was aware that a video team had been following him through the tournament. It’s not too hard to guess that the coach wanted to be closer to the camera and louder than usual for the sound recordist. All for the success of the behind-the-scenes documentary.
Today’s stars don’t have to take these pains. Documentaries take too much time, and are too long. In the digital age, Insta Live or Twitter Q&A announcements are all it takes for the stars to reach their followers, and convey the message that they want.
But why do these cricketing superstars, who get ample evidence of their popularity and fame whenever they step out, need this virtual acknowledgement of their stardom? Because it pays to be a social-media influencer.
The number of followers decides your brand value and image. Crossing a million-followers mark is as important as achieving a cricketing milestone or breaking a record. Virat Kohli, it has been widely reported in the media, gets close to Rs 2.5 crore for a social media post.
There are more benefits. It keeps the celebrities in circulation, helps them convey their leanings, stands and agenda. A social-media influencer making the right noises has a bright chance to have a political career. There are enough cricketers who have followed this path and others are aspiring. Look for provocative posts and you know a cricketer is gradually getting ready for a second innings in public life.
To live one’s life as content, to compromise one’s privacy, to be in a glass house once in a while has its benefits.
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National Sports Editor