PREPARATIONS FOR RUNNING COMMENTARY
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Well begun is half done. Preparing for a battle means winning it by advancing and meeting the adversary midway. Likewise, if a commentator is well prepared physically, mentally and academically, well the delivery is as good as done. How well a commentator is prepared is reflected in the voice and style. The self confidence needed to tackle any situation in the unfolding of events comes with thorough preparation. Treat the act of doing a running commentary like going into a battle where the prize is for the winner and winner alone. There are no second and third prizes, the rest fall into the category of losers; they have no option but to bite the dust until they resolve to fight another battle and fly the flag as a successful commentator.
Pran Yayu or the life-giving breath is the top priority in the scheme of preparation. It has been my experience that control of breath not only leads to the top rung of the ladder but also gives that extra ounce of energy to win as a commentator. The simple method is : Inhale and Exhale the breath as many times as possible without getting tired. This is the simplest form of Pranayam – easy to learn and easier to practise. Of course, there are many other types of Pranayams or exercises to control your breath and use the Urja or the energy thus generated to deliver words appropriate for the commentary in style.
There have been many occasions in my career as a commentator when I was left alone in the commentator’s box as the lady slated to be co-commentator registered a no show. Those were the occasions for me to stand up to the difficult situation and keep the flag of commentary flying by going into the battle as a lone Ranger. It is in this kind of situation that the additional energy and an extra iota of self confidence generated by the Pranayam COME TO RESCUE.
Now let us get down to some obviously seeming to be minor but important points of preparation from the viewpoint of personal hygiene. Make sure that morning ablutions were satisfactory. Empty your bowels so that breaking wind off and on does not bother you while the sign on the booth is Red and the Mike is switched On. Drinking right amount of water helps in more ways than one. At the same time one has to be ready to absorb the water in stomach and body system without having to run to the wash room every now and then. As a sole commentator in the booth, one cannot afford to leave the commentator’s box unmanned. Not caring for it may lead to disaster.
One should lay an emphasis on taking a hot water bath after shave and shampoo. A good hot water bath helps blood run into veins unhindered and muscles are energised. The jaw muscles are flexible and words pour out of the mouth at the desired level and speed..Let words not gush out like water of the Niagara Falls nor allow it to slow down like a drying rivulet of a desert. Let it be as natural as possible. The important point to note is that the commentary is being done for a large number of listeners and not for the health, name and fame of the commentator. If the delivery goes well and listeners feel happy, the name of the commentator is bound to find a place in the annals of running commentary. One may fall back to the advice given in the Bhagwad-Gita : Do thy duty, Reward is Not thy Concern.
Is a commentator suitably dressed? One cannot turn round and say “ what I wear is my concern”. No, certainly not. When the TV camera focuses on the commentator, the whole world of viewers knows at the first glance what is your attire. It should be normal and comfortable. For Pete’s sake, do not wear anything outlandish just to look different from the crowd. You are not participating in a fashion parade but are there to play your role as a commentator. Your attire matters but is not the focus of attention.
On a national day, it would be perfectly fine to wear a dhoti and kurta. It is comfortable and you are ready to go into action at a short notice. Of course, do take a look at your dress in a long size mirror to examine and appreciate from the viewers’ point of view.
I have spoken and written about Pranayam and I would like to throw in a dash of mild exercise to help blood run into arteries smoothly without an interruption. Exercise done on a day-today basis keeps one healthy and eliminates the risk of passing out in a tense situation. In any case, an experienced commentator takes difficult moments of an event in his normal stride of life. Take it Easy – that is the advice rendered to both greenhorns and experienced men and women. Tension in doing a running commentary must be eliminated to keep the going smooth and natural.
It goes without saying that the stomach of a commentator should be half full and half empty. There should be health promoting food in it so that the level of blood sugar does not go down to cause an anxiety. At the same time it should not be too full to cause belching now and then. A man or a woman should know what is the right amount of food and drink to be consumed to keep your body and mind active. The food and drink must not cause lethargy.
Mannerism must be avoided. It is a distraction in the spot commentary as well as in a live event commentary when the camera focuses as much on the commentator as on the event. Be your Natural Self – that is the best piece of advice one can give. Nothing will go wrong as you will not make an endeavour to attract the attention of the viewer out of turn. Indeed one runs a high risk while doing a spot commentary and remains in eye contact with the spectators. Do move your eyes all over but must not get stuck with a pretty face therein. Indeed it will be disastrous and may sink the ship.
A good commentator who wishes to find a place in the annals of running commentaries should aim at specialization. The Republic Day Parade is the biggest military event in India and attracts the largest audience both on spot and the electronic media. Notwithstanding the advent of TV in a big way to reach the privacy of a bedroom, some old enthusiasts still prefer the good old Radio. Indeed the styles of doing running commentaries for both are poles apart. Suffice it to say that to be a success on the Radio, a commentator must use imagination, match it with the event and make a word picture for the listeners to visualise what is happening on the ground.
While doing a running commentary on television, a commentator must not emphasis the obvious by explaining an obvious picture on screen. Indeed additional information must be given to enable a viewer to appreciate the picture better and enjoy the event.
A commentator must read as much as possible about the event he is going to comment upon. Of course, he must keep the time frame in view. If the battle tanks on the Rajpath are going to take three minutes to rumble past the Presidential dais, the words should be chiselled to fit into that time frame. There is no point in keep talking on Tanks when the artillery guns are in picture frames. The audience would not forgive that out of turn commentator for wasting their time. However, if one is on the Radio, one should keep on talking lest the listeners think that something has gone wrong with their radio receiving sets. Here one cannot say that Brevity is the soul of wit.
The background knowledge on the subject comes handy when an event stretches longer than the scheduled time. The additional information stored in the brain comes handy at that time. S, please read, read and read. Inculcating a sound reading habit is an asset of a good commentator. Indeed, he has to sift in his mind and retain in memory: What must be said, What should be said and What could be said. It will depend on the actual time available at the time of doing the running commentary.
VOICE OF COMMENTATOR
I shall deal with this important topic briefly here because there is a separate chapter on the Voice of a commentator. It should be nurtured, cultured and never be allowed to go wonky. In a nutshell it can be said that the Voice of a commentator should be pleasing to the ears of listeners. It should not be jarring. Of course, there is no music class going on for making the Voice of a commentator melodious but it can be trained alright by constant practice. There are some Do’s and Don’ts for improving the Voice of a commentator. Never drink a chilled beverage after consuming a cup of hot tea or coffee.
Alcohol must be avoided before doing a running commentary. Here is the regimen of a flying fighter pilot who is forbidden to consume alcoholic drinks the evening before he goes into action as a fighter pilot rummaging the enemy front line. Not only the voice should be stable but also senses and nerves. A commentator is no less important than a fighter pilot of an Air Force.
The Voice must suit the theme. If one is describing the Charge of the Light Brigade, composed by Lord Tennyson, the voice must reflect thunder of the artillery guns that volleyed and thundered. Likewise, if a tableau depicts a tender scene or a love scene, the voice should be as melodious as that of the hero and heroine delivering a love dialogue.
Commenting on a scene descriptive of Nationalism, modulation of voice should be done accordingly. One must not lose sight of the fact that Nationalism is Nationalism; not jingoism. Become a commentator never be a Peacenik, not forgetting that Peace is the international order of the day.
PASSING THE BATON
One should remember to pass on the baton of commentary to the next generation of young men and women. Nursing the thought – AFTER ME THE DELUGE – is not the sign of a healthy civilised nation. Knowledge is indeed a continuous process and, of course, the running commentary is an inseparable part of that process. Let it go on and on from generation to generation.