By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Going back to my boyhood days I recall that it was considered to be a healthy pastime to switch on radio to tune in the running commentary on the Republic Day Parade on 26th January, Independence Day at the Red Fort Delhi or a cricket match at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai and enjoy. Of course, the commentators, both Hindi and English, were stalwarts of their time and every word that they uttered was worth listening to. There was no television in our homes those days and no telecast of national events either. We were dependant on the good old radio to keep ourselves abreast of happenings in the realm of sports, arrivals and departures of international figures, grand parades on National Days and so on. Commentators were heroes in our eyes.
A good commentator used words to make a picture so that listeners see them in their inward eye and know what was going on thousands of miles away from the cozy comfort of their homes. The success of a commentator was evaluated by listeners at the end of the day when they assembled at the chowk or chauraha near homes to compare notes of the event of the day conveyed by the radio through word pictures made by commentators. The mouth to mouth publicity given by listeners mattered a lot and organizers sitting in the Broadcasting House, later in the Akashvani Bhawan in New Delhi took note of what and whom listeners in general wished to hear time and again. Next time the selectors chose the commentators accordingly.
Making a word picture by a commentator for millions of listeners sitting far away so that they form a picture of the event in their own minds is indeed an art. Some excel in doing it, some fall short of expectations. The former make a name and attain fame, the latter fall by the wayside and are consigned to oblivion. It would be a good idea to enumerate factors that go to make a good commentator who lasts long.
A budding commentator has to master the language of his commentary. The language will depend on who the target audience is likely to be. If it is the elite of the society, English is the language. If the listeners are from both rural and urban areas, the commoners who form the majority in civil and military, the obvious choice of language will be Hindi. The radio stations that cater to local people in a province or state, will select the dominant regional language like Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam and so on. A far sighted commentator will choose the language of his or her commentary depending on where the majority of listeners come from and what their linguistic preference is likely to be. In my opinion, Hindi is a popular language throughout the length and breadth of Bharat. We may not lose sight of the fact that most of the broadcasting organizations prefer to choose a bilingual commentator. Both Hindi and English languages are used on different occasions.
TOOLS OF SKILL
A good commentator selects his tools and acquires them to brighten and sharpen the skill. A skilled commentator is more in demand in the broadcasting world than an unskilled one. A RADIO COMMENTATOR MAKES A WORD PICTURE FOR LISTENERS as stated hereinfore. If the picture is bright and well focused, success is his. On the other hand, if the word picture is blurred and makes little sense to listeners, the commentator might as well buy a one way ticket to home town.
A commentator required to give a running commentary on the TV is required to handle his tool differently. It is the TV camera that brings the picture to listeners and describing the same pictures in words would indeed not only be repetitive but also cause annoyance to viewers. The role of a TV commentator is to augment information and add to the existing picture. Mentioning new facts relating to what the camera is showing gives a sense of pleasure to the viewers. They stand well informed and their time has not gone waste.
WORDS are the main tool of a commentator, be it radio or TV. Relevance of the spoken word to the subject of the commentary has to be kept in mind and acted upon. A commentator should always bear in mind that his or her commentary is meant for the consumption of the listener or the viewer. The language used by the commentator, therefore, should be understandable by the target audience. The words used must never be archaic or difficult to understand. If a listener or viewer gets entangled with language, his pleasure of listening or viewing is definitely minimized.
If Hindi is the vehicle of communication, it should be spoken Hindi. Written Hindi is rather difficult as some Sanskrit words are bound to creep in. Since the common man is the main listener, spoken Hindi where words are simple and used in conversation should be chosen. Needless to say that simple Hindi lends fluency to commentary that is enjoyed by both the commentator and the listener.
Lord Francis Bacon, the famous English essayist wrote that Practice makes a man Perfect. He said so for written English but it equally applies to spoken English, Hindi, Sanskrit and all languages used for doing running commentary. One aspiring to be a commentator should practice the art of doing commentary at every opportunity; may be an ordinary function, a cantonment level parade or a local political party’s meeting.
Simplicity of language is equally applicable to the commentator using the English language. Of late it is seen that some commentators wishing to distinguish themselves tend to use proverbs or saying that are not part of current English. A good commentary is the one where current spoken English is used. Quoting a Greek proverb will be an exercise in futility because what the commentator says will be Greek to listeners. I shall not be overemphasizing when I say that using simple English is the hallmark of a good commentary that is enjoyed by listeners.
Preparation of the subject matter is an important aspect of doing running commentary. Should there be a choice, take on a subject in which you are interested. Your interest will generate will power to acquire as much knowledge about the topic of commentary as possible. In brief it may be said that if the duration of commentary is 30 minutes, you should have enough material to enable you to go on for 90 minutes. At times the duration of the event is extended for one reason or the other and the commentator is requested to carry on speaking to keep the listeners entertained. It happens in the case of a spot commentary where a political leader or a minister of the government is expected to speak or preside over. If he or she turns up late because the flight was late owing to inclement weather, the responsibility of carrying on the function falls on shoulders of the commentator. Poor dear, you cannot call it a day prematurely.
A good commentator should have a good lung power. He should be able to go on and on without coughing. Of course, good organizers always hire the services of at least two commentators to meet any eventuality. One male and one female commentator do well as listeners are spared suffering generated by monotony of voice.
Preparation of Self is equally important. What should a commentator on TV wear? Well, the dress should not be outlandish but a normal wear. It applies to a spot commentary fellow. Make up your mind that you will not be a victim of mannerism and out of town accent. Please do not eat or drink anything that may cause stomach upset or put a strain on your bladder. Once a commentator sits before the mike, he or she is not supposed to get up mid-way to answer the call of nature, irrespective of the duration of commentary. Needless to say that for long duration activities, relieving fellow is available.
Be in good humour, be cheerful so that you give your best. Let not an event that had turned sour in the recent past, make you use swear words now. Just concentrate on the Present, never on the Past. Let bygones be bygones. Keep smiling come rain come shine.
VOICE AT MIKE
The voice at mike carries a million marks. It should be pleasant. A listener or a viewer should enjoy listening. If it is shrill, the man would be given marching orders sooner than later. If it is too soft that even machines are unable to boost it, the commentator would be advised to see an ENT specialist to get his vocal cord sorted out.
Your voice is your voice. You have to care for it. Please remember that drinking something too hot or too cold is forbidden. In any case consumption of alcohol by a commentator before sitting at the mike is absolutely forbidden. The rule must be adhered to as strictly as it is done for the pilots before flying for obvious reasons.
A good commentator develops a reading habit. The more you read the more knowledgeable you are. The memory chip in your brain keeps the knowledge acquired by reading books on topics of your choice well stored and provides it at recall. While at mike one has to be quick at recall so that fluency in commentary is maintained. Knowledge never goes waste. It is with you as long as you renew it and recall it when the time is ripe.
Wishing you all the best while you undertake the long journey for becoming a commentator.
Personal Note: I, Brigadier(Retd) Chitranjan Sawant,VSM have been doing running commentaries on the national events like the Republic Day Parade, on the electronic media for the last 43 years without a break. I shall go on as long as you wish to listen. Thanks.