Back in 2010, my co-founder Madhukar Jha aka Maddy had posted this on his Facebook page. He had just finished watching an India vs Iran women’s Kabaddi match on DD Sports, an edge-of-the-seat thriller with brawls, taunts, jeers, skill, and tension, topped off with a nail biting finish that saw India pip Iran in the tie-breaker.
“Full paisa vasool,” he’d said. From the 1 ‘like’ that the post got, we can assume not many shared that opinion back then.
But that was four years ago. Four years before Pro Kabaddi. Four years before this ancient Indian sport packaged in 21st century bling would grab the country by its unmentionables in a way previously reserved only for Bollywood blockbusters or slam-bang cricket formats. And, after a first-hand experience of a live Kabaddi match yesterday, I totally get Why!
Challenge: Can you think of a less complicated sport than Kabaddi?
A guy raids the opposition half. He either comes back with a scalp or two, or he doesn’t come back at all. Sometimes, he lives to die in another raid. No calculating net run rate business, no wind direction and club selection, no DRS and tyre strategies, no esoteric point system. Heck, Kabaddi is simpler than even Boxing and Football. So simple that the average Indian dude – after days of writing code or crunching numbers or brown-nosing his boss – can leave his brains at home to go and shout at muscular men wrestling each other down on the floor. Much for the same reason they go and watch the Singhams and Dabanggs of the world.
And, dare I say, Kabaddi is certainly better than that Bollywood tripe.
There’s just no gap, no breathing space, no time to chill and soak in the air. A raid is on every minute of the match. You take your eyes off to grab a popcorn and you miss a huge moment in the match. The action is relentless, non-stop. Almost like a football penalty shootout – one followed by another – 60 minutes that go by faster than you can say Kabaddi-Kabaddi.
If you look at it, these are exactly the reasons why its popular on TV as well. I knew Kabaddi had hit the sweet spot when I saw my local barber’s TV showing a Kabaddi match, a TV set that had probably never shown any channel that wasn’t playing a Kannada movie or song. It’s almost at the same level as stock brokers watching Kabaddi instead of CNBC, as Abhishek Bachchan pointed out in his tweet.
Great live experience
Heart-of-town, ample parking, no long queues, no unnecessary security precautions, no sweaty armpits in your nose, no pot bellies pushing your back, no mad scramble for water and snacks. Basically, none of the nonsense one has to deal with when watching a cricket match.
If there’s one thing they could have done better was get an in-stadium announcer/commentator who knew something about the sport. The announcer in Bangalore did the usual stuff to pump up the crowd but miserably failed to hide his lack of Kabaddi knowledge. The only name he seemed to know from either of the teams was Ajay Thakur and ‘I say Ajay, you say Thakur’ was his only go-to line. Some quick match status updates and raid results through the in-stadia announcer could have helped.
Why the success of Pro Kabaddi is important for sports in India
So we can finally say goodbye to rubbish lines such as ‘Nothing works in India except Cricket’.