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RJ Balaji hopes Sanjay Manjrekar doesn’t mind his comments

RJ Balaji

RJ Balaji   | Photo Credit: S Siva Saravanan


The radio jockey-turned-actor discusses Tamil cricket commentary and his on-air remarks about fellow commentator Sanjay Manjrekar

It was day one of the semifinal between India and New Zealand, and rain was playing spoilsport.

I dial RJ Balaji’s phone assuming he too would be on a break from Tamil commentating duties at a Star Sports studio in Mumbai. In typical Balaji-style humour, he answers the call with, “Let me say the ‘Thisara mantra’ now.”

For the uninitiated, Balaji’s exaggerated pronunciation of Sri Lankan cricketer Thisara Perera’s name is something of a good luck charm for cricket fans. So much so that when India is in trouble, people ring him up asking him to say the mantra!

While India have exited the World Cup, fans still smile when they think about Balaji’s quips. Excerpts from an interview:

When did your association with cricket first start?

If you’re born anywhere in India, you cannot not have played cricket on the streets. I started playing when I was five or six. The first team I played for was called ‘Venus 11’. I insisted that I be made the captain since I was the only one who owned a bat.

Who were your favourite commentators then?

I would hope to hear Tony Greig’s voice on TV; he is still my all-time favourite. I also liked Geoffrey Boycott’s commentary.

How did you react when you were approached for Tamil commentary?

I declined at first because I didn’t know how it would pan out. But then I thought I should give it a try. I’ve been doing cricket commentary on radio since 2007, and the feedback had been good. For TV, the primary aim was to connect with audience, and entertain them with my quips.

Is there a process you follow before you start work on a game?

I’ll read for one hour on the day of the match about the teams involved, the previous games between them and the pitch etc. But a lot of things that clicks are what I do spontaneously. When I spotted an old lady in the crowd recently, I exclaimed, ‘Paati-ma’ and that became so popular that people wanted me to repeat it in the exact same tone everywhere I went.

You have also been involved in social causes. Where does cricket commentary stand in the various activities in your life?

Out of all the things I’ve gotten involved in, the response to cricket commentary has been the most overwhelming. Recently, I took a small break from commentating as I was unwell. But a lot of people walked up to me and asked angrily, ‘Why are you here? Aren’t you speaking about the match on TV?’ Their tone was very much like how they’d ask their milkman if he was absent for a day. A few days ago, when I was at a village, all the school children shouted, ‘Thisara’. These are all unforgettable moments.

Your not-so-positive comments on Sanjay Manjrekar went viral recently...

It was light-hearted banter, that’s all. Such things happen all the time in live commentary boxes... just that when it was cut into a small internet clip, it became a controversy of sorts. It was popular opinion at that time, and I wanted to feature that, in jest, on television. If I bump into him sometime, I’ll say hello, and, hopefully, he will reply.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:38:12 AM |

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