According to sports journalism lore, Virat Kohli once admitted in private that he should not have got all those tattoos. They gave him an image that wasn’t really him, nor to his liking.
Tattoo ink is made from heavy metals, such as manganese, lead, copper, and — in some red inks — mercury. Erasing a tattoo requires laser to break up the ink particles. It’s slow, long, and painful.
Perhaps for that reason, or maybe because the story is apocryphal, Kohli’s tattoos stay in place. But he has erased his early image of a brash young man who, parents feared, would be adopted by their children as a role model. Few could understand why he mouthed obscenities in celebration. Those who did understand him were those who understood Kohli’s two earliest influences: Delhi cricket, and West Delhi.
Unlike Karnataka and Mumbai cricket team’s dressing rooms, Delhi’s is not genteel. Young new entrants in Delhi get baptised by bullying. They need to be fighters, not only on the field but also off it. West Delhi, on the other hand, is a Punjabi pocket borough that can outdo any other locality in India in vanity — and it will do so with a sculpted body, chiselled cheekbone, groomed stubble, trendiest clothes, and flashiest cars.
Kohli’s coming of age is a story of his channelling the positives of both his early influences. In between, he has moved from hiding a hickey in a television commercial to promoting a healthy lifestyle for children.
“Initially you get excited about the opportunities that come your way. With a growing career, you realise that your choices influence others... So you want to make better choices... I became conscious in choosing advertisements,” Kohli, now 27, told HT.
The early Kohli was not averse to getting into fracas with journalists and photographers, or showing his middle finger to pretty much anyone. Now, as the captain of the Indian test cricket team, he personifies dignity. Even when he told trolls not to harass Anushka Sharma, his girlfriend, on Twitter, he chose his words carefully. “Have some compassion,” he said, “She has only given me positivity.”
People who claim to know Kohli vouch for Sharma’s positive influence on him. As a young actress and producer, Sharma shows a remarkable work ethic, which may have rubbed off on Kohli. He is never late to the gym, to an event, or a shoot. He is, in fact, said to have become a one-take model, who gets his lines and expressions right in one go.
“When Virat joined the team, his brash behaviour led many think that he was too immature to handle success. But he used his anger positively. It added another edge to his saleable personality,” says Piyush Pandey, creative director for India and South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather. Adds Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer at Kwan Entertainment: “He would translate into a statesman, presuming his on-ground performance remains same.”
These are just some of the reasons brands love him. Another is that he is the fittest, by far, in the Indian cricket team, and he takes care to wear glasses at just the right time, groom his beard just the right way, and score runs just when the team needs them the most.
The runs he scores in chases or in crises show the spirit burnished in Delhi, and the look is West Delhi vanity at play. The fitness is about the sacrifices. Kohli, it is believed, has not eaten chapatti, rice, sugar, or that West Delhi staple – butter chicken -- for years. He doesn’t touch alcohol, is careful about the water he drinks, and carries a brand of peanut butter everywhere.
Fitness, happily for him, is also something fraught with business potential. “Fitness is my larger concern. It is coming out as a business venture. This is an area I have a good knowledge of. I am very aware of every meal I eat,” he says.
Kohli has also become conscious of his role in society. He says: “As you understand the importance you hold in the community, you obviously want to make better choices, which are better for other people as well.”
When the brand for which he had done that hiding-hickey commercial came to renew their contract, Kohli said he was not comfortable with it. “I have understood never to push Virat for something about which he is not convinced,” says Bunty Sajdeh, CEO of Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment, which manages Kohli. “I have rejected 16 brands in the last 24 months.”