Readers Write In #329: ‘How HB and BR helped evolve my taste

Posted on January 19, 2021


(by Akila Narayanan)

On Day 3 of the 4th Test match between India vs Australia, I was watching an ‘Extra Innings’ session anchored by Harsha Bhogle (HB) and simultaneously surfing BaradwajRangan’s(BR) blog posts. The thought that instantly struck me was how both of these gentlemen have helped evolve my taste for cricket-watching and movie-watching over the decades.

I vaguely remembered that they belong to the Engineering tribe. Wikipedia confirmed that they both are chemical engineering graduates. Both have had affiliations with advertising agencies, and have put up with paycheck jobs before they found their true inner calling. Both have carved out a niche career path as professional reviewers, approaching commentary / criticism of the respective medium as a function of scholarly knowledge and finer taste. Both are extremely versatile with ability to share wisdom on a variety of subjects, eloquent in English as a speaking language and are published authors. Of course, both of them aptly fit into the portrait of intellectually curious men – the bespectacled and the bald.

I love HB’s bio profile in the TED site that reads, ‘Harsha Bhogle can talk about the business side of cricket, the technicalities of play and the psychology of the players with equal authority.’ Likewise, BR can talk about the business side of movies, the technicalities of movie-making and the psychology of the movie-makers as well as the characters conceived by the makers (does that qualify for a meta reference?). I strongly believe HB and BR have helped evolved my taste not just in view of the respective mediums but also inspired me to extend five of the following key learnings and apply in my professional context.

Asking the curious questions: The foremost reinforcement learning from both the gentlemen has been to keep the child-like curiosity alive. This is fairly evident in most of the expert or celebrity interactions by asking them thought-provoking questions and evoking the finest responses. Sachin tweeted on HB’s birthday, ‘Your commentary and sharp insights have always added so much perspective to the game of cricket.’Talking of another Master in Kollywood circles, the recent interview of BR with Master’s maker Lokesh Kanagaraj(LK) is a masterclass on how to ask the right questions. Probably, this was the maiden time that I put an interview in repeat mode. When BR happened to interview the likes of CV Kumar and Archana Kalpathi, I really admired his curiosity to learn about the business models of production houses operating at varied scales.

Simplifying the anatomy: I think both HB and BR have this uncanny ability to peel off the layers of the onion, add their perspectives and help us uncover our own perspectives.Thanks to HB’s honey-soaked voice and simplification skills, I have always felt a sense of comfort in learning the explanations of commonly conceived complex rules of cricket like the LBW decisions or the debate around sticking with umpire calls after taking DRS etc.through his columns.

Similarly, thanks to review masterpieces like the Angamaly Diaries, BR enabled me to understand terminologies like staging, set piece, single shot etc. Though I am not naturally wired to look for these aspects, I would revisit the movie scenes after reading BR’s column and register my appreciation. In the professional setup, I have constantly made attempts to simplify the jargons for the junior associates. I have come to realize that the ability to simplify comes with in-depth understanding of a subject and the task of simplification is quite complex.

Until few years back, I lacked clarity on the role of a film director, especially when the story and screenplay is credited to someone else. It is only after reading ‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’, and the critical pieces on Lijo Jose Pellisery’s movies, I could clearly understand what direction as a job profile meant and what distinguishes good direction and great direction. Perhaps, in my own professional world, I have better understood what differentiates a Leader from a Project Manager.

Understanding the stakeholder’s psyche:When it comes understanding player psychology, HB is phenomenal in reasoning out why a player plays a particular shot at a particular point in time by adding a lot of sub-context around it. At times, I wonder if he can double up in the role of a psychologist and help the player regain back his lost form.

I feel BR has a similar capability where he can get into the psyche of the maker or the characters effortlessly. I still wonder how on earth did BR make a perfect guess that Zoya Akhtar thinks in English while penning scripts/ dialogues for a Hindi movie. Mind-boggling!

Going back to the masterpiece interview with LK, upon BR’s probing, so many reveals that LK made during the course of interactions like the title card placement, camera positioning in the chase sequence, the trade-off done during dubbing to cut to a reaction shot rather than retaining the (emotional) single shot scared me a bit that BR is probably a mentalist.

I guess both HB and BR have empathy in abundance and that is a good skill to practice when dealing with multiple stakeholders and managing their needs in a professional environment.

Adapting to changing times: HB has always evangelized the importance of the players who adapted with the different formats of the game. I think BR has also emphasized the way Mani Ratnam has adapted with changing times and kept his content relevant across generations. I guess HB and BR have effortlessly adapted to various mediums that includes Radio/TV, Print, Video, Social Media.

One incident that comes to mind is the resistance that the blogging community expressed when BR joined Film Companion, primarily because it meddled with their habit to the read the post in entirety in the blog site and comment right there. Being an active reader and a passive commenter in the platform, I myself found it a little nagging in the early days to navigate back and forth. BR persisted with the change (adhering to slight adjustments suggested by his commenters) as he knew that every change will face resistance, yet changing with times is inevitable. IMHO, that’s a masterstroke where BR could not just secure his finance, he discovered his VJ persona, and there is exponential reach for his content in the pan-Indian arena. Now, the audience is habituated to visit the blog site, navigate to Film Companion site and comment back in the blog site. Adaptability is the key to stay relevant.

Using humor to engage audience: Be it an opportunity to deliver a generous appreciation for a job well done or while conducting a training session for the team members, I have learnt from these gentlemen to interleave serious content with humor and make it engaging for the audience.

HB is terrific with his spontaneous wits and his approach to humoris what we colloquially call in Tamil as ‘vaazhappazhaththula oosi yeththardhu’. Like Navarasa in dance to express every possible emotion, he has a wisecrack for every occasion. Sample few ->

  • On Sachin Tendulkar’s technical finesse in hitting a straight drive, ‘Open the textbook, turn to page 32.’
  • On Rahul Dravid’s perseverance to bat consistently irrespective of any surface, ‘Ask him to walk on water and he will ask how many kilometers?’
  • On Michael Clarke’s hesitation to return to the pavilion after being declared out, ‘I think he is waiting for tomorrow’s newspaper to declare him out.’
  • On Narendra Hirwani’s (a leg spin bowler of yester era) ability to bat, ‘If you make a team with all the No. 11s of all the teams, Hirwani would still come at No. 11 in the line-up.’

There is a thin line between being brutally honest and brutally sarcastic. BR invariably crosses that line when he gets in touch with bad content. Case in point is the recent Bhoomi movie review and this approach is what we colloquially call in Tamil as ‘marana kalaai’. Since this might have dire consequences when attempted in a professional setup, let me strictly confine the application of this learning to personal context only.