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What’s a full toss in Jio’s Bhojpuri IPL? Ravi Kishan makes it travel the Ara-Chhapra distance

Bhojpuri has been reduced to humour in popular culture. Part of the reason why Bhojpuri cricket commentary is going viral.

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Like most Virat Kohli fans, I stopped watching IPL when Royal Challengers Bangalore got comfortable on the losing side. Call it overdose, overkill, the 2023 season had little to no buzz among cricket fans. But it is now garda all along on Twitter feeds and viral reels, all thanks to Ravi Kishan and Bhojpuri commentary.

In 16 years of Indian Premier League, Bhojpuri and Punjabi commentary got their first break. And it has hit the T20 tournament like a slap on a dozy face. Shikhar Dhawan has become Seekhar Don, Andre Russel is now Russal Mussal. I am sure more Bihari christening will follow as the league progresses. For the first time, the full toss ball at the stadiums is covering the distance between Ara and Chhapra—the two Bhojpuri speaking districts of Bihar that are divided by the Ganga. With the introduction of Bhojpuri commentary, the IPL’s appeal has further deepened into the hinterlands, and among a people who have long been deprived of any international cricket in their backyard. The last time Bihar hosted an ODI, it was undivided. It was a 1996 World Cup fixture in Patna.

There is mention of Silao’s khaja and Muzzaffarpur’s lychee. Clearly, Purvanchal has arrived. It’s not just cricket commentary, it’s cultural sprinkle on live TV.

The season kickstarted with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s entry on a yellow chariot at Chennai Super Kings’ match against Gujarat Titans on 31 March. His sixers didn’t get CSK a win but as usual they were a treat to fans. Those cheering from Bihar-Jharkhand were voiced by Kishan and his fellow commentators in the box as they called him “Bhojpuriya party ke Maharaj (King of Bhojpuriyas)”. A few things top that emotion.

Kishan, who hails from Jaunpur in UP, is only talking to the ‘25 crore’ people of ‘Bhojpuri samaj’. He calls the baller ‘sanki’ (crazy) and then praises him for his ‘rangdaari’ (machismo). Between overs, he makes sure to reiterate how proud he feels to represent his home state. Just when the boasting becomes unbearable, a ball crossing the boundary gets him back in the game and in the commentator’s chair.

But not all that comes out of Ravi Kishan’s mouth is funny. For example, while taking a lunch break during the Punjab Kings vs Kolkata Knight Riders match on 1 April, Kishan jarringly mentions that since he is a Brahmin, food becomes a much more pressing matter.

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A cultural pull

Others who join the actor-politician in the box are also warming up. The Bhojpuri commentary has pulled in a budding cricketer like Shivam Singh, a Ranji player from Bihar’s Kaimur, sharing the stage with big wigs of the game. But not all of them are regular Bhojpuri speakers and it shows. You often get distracted by some of the commentators struggling with the language. It also makes you realise how Punjabi speakers must feel about the ithes and the uthes. Here, haila, hoila, la, la, la are all over the place. But jerky Bhojpuri is still better than no Bhojpuri.

This language spoken by people in three states of India–Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh–has mostly been reduced to just humour in popular culture. Part of the reason why Bhojpuri cricket commentary is an instant hit. But beyond this frenzy, the regional language has won a small but important victory. Ravi Kishan’s one-liners are landing in small corners of Purvanchal along with the ball in the stadium. The funny thing about representation is that it’s hardly ever satisfying. But if the IPL commentators get it right, Bhojpuri might finally have its moment in the sun.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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