If you ask me, it all started with Mandira Bedi. Yes, the same Mandira Bedi who materialised on our TV screens nearly a decade ago, resplendent in noodle-strap blouses and low-waisted saris to hold forth on fine legs, cover drives, hook shots and maiden overs. Bless her, she often didn’t get them quite right but who could tell? Everyone was so transfixed by that one bare shoulder (Was she wearing a blouse? Wasn’t she?) and glimpses of that washboard stomach that nobody cared if she got her silly point mixed up with her square leg.
And thus began the cult of the Indian woman sportscaster as bimbo. Don’t get me wrong. Many of the women who have since graced our television screens holding forth on everything from tennis to badminton, from football to cricket, have been pretty darn knowledgeable about the games they commentate about. (Well, at least some of them are.) But for reasons that I find truly baffling, they all have to fit in with the Mandira paradigm.
That is to say that while their male colleagues can sit back and relax in their suits and ties (and matching turbans in the case of the irrepressible Navjot Singh Sidhu) the ladies have to squeeze into impossibly tight dresses that stop well short of their knees, leave at least one shoulder bare and expose just the right amount of cleavage to keep the punters interested.
Actually, the promos of IPL’s Extraaa Innings T20 just about say it all. It has all its presenters running into frame and then freezing as they get up to all sorts of ludicrous poses. But while the men hop, skip and jump in their well-tailored suits, or T-shirts and jeans teamed with sports jackets, the women run in slow motion in tiny black dresses and billowing skirts that pouf up tantalisingly so that you feel for one heart-stopping second that you may just glimpse their bare essentials. It’s all very Marilyn Monroe, except that the girl in question is a brunette not a blonde and is wearing a red, not a white dress.
But these small details apart, it’s staggeringly clear what the game plan is here. The men are there to add gravitas, to talk intelligently about cricket, rib each other good-naturedly, tell long and tedious anecdotes about their own cricketing days and when things begin to get a little boring, spice things up by making nudge-nudge, wink-wink references to the scantily-clad girls in the middle who are supposed to chat up the cricketers in the breaks. “Ah,” says one bearded fellow as the sixes and fours become a little scarce on the ground, “Let’s see what Archana/Shibani have for us in the field.” Snigger, snigger.
In case you haven’t been watching, that’s Archana Vijaya, a model and veejay who has now graduated to hosting such cricket shows as the IPL, and Shibani Dandekar, who describes herself as a model and singer and has recently returned to India after growing up in Australia and working as a TV anchor in America.
Now I would have no problem with how scantily these girls are dressed – God knows, they are showing much less skin than the cheerleaders doing their stuff on the sidelines – if they had actual cricketing conversations when they are down on the field wielding a microphone in front of some hapless cricketer or the other. Instead, we are treated to a stream of inanities while the action continues tantalisingly out of range. So while Archana/Shibani is asking some bowling coach how he is feeling about the team’s chances, a ball goes whizzing past the boundary line, a close call for a run out is missed, and finally a wicket falls. And then, thankfully, the adults in the room upstairs take over and the little girls are told to make themselves scarce.
They can come back when all the action is over, the trophies have been distributed, the man of the match interviewed, and then they can do a little jig with Shah Rukh Khan as he teaches them how to achieve the right angle while attempting Bollywood-style pelvic thrusts.
Honestly! Is this really all that women are capable of contributing to a cricket game? Isn’t there one woman who has enough cricketing knowledge to sit in the studio beside Harsha Bhogle and Ajay Jadeja and hold forth authoritatively about the match?
Oh yes, actually there is. She’s called Isa Guha, and has played for the England women’s cricket team and is part of the ITV sports commentary team. So, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see her sitting next to Harsha one fine day, speaking such absolute sense that it made me wish that Sidhu would take a permanent leave of absence from the studio and leave the lovely Isa to regale us with her wisdom.
But guess what? Nobody seemed to be paying the blindest bit of attention to what she said. The social media was all agog about her outfit, Twitter was abuzz with talk about her cleavage, and Facebook was busy rating her charms against Shibani and Archana. The poor girl could have been spouting Swahili for all it mattered.
I don’t know about you, but I blame Mandira Bedi.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, May 20
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