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MONOJIT LAHIRI articulates pointers to what makes this 26 year old Delhi lad, a red-hot dude for all lovers of the game

virat-kohli-photo-in-black-blazer-1649My aged uncle was stunned when skipper Virat Kholi indulgently smiled mischievously and brushed away the gasps of puritans & politically correct people at the recent Ishant sharma cause celebre in Sri Lanka with a provocative AN ANGRY BOWLER IS A CAPTAIN’S DELIGHT & generally indicated unconditional support to the freaked-out speedster!

“It goes against the spirit of this great gentleman’s game and was bad news for youngster to see their role-model root for the wrong values”, said the oldie. My 20 year old nephew however violently disagreed. “Super to see a chilled-out young superstar not give a crap for traditional, moth-balled niceties and solidly rocking the boat. Way to go, dude!”

In year 2015, it gets abundantly clear each day that Virat Kohli for everybody, especially youngistan – is indeed the man of the moment and Brand Virat – not for nothing – emerged as the sixth most marketable athlete in the world, zooming ahead of legends like Usain Bolt & Ronaldo in a VVV special list prepared by British Sports magazine Sports Pro for year 2014 covering world’s leading sports personalities & ranked against basic parameters like age, home, market, charisma, willingness to be marketed & crossover appeal. This takes on even greater dimension because cricket in the arena of world sports hardly holds a candle to bigger draws like Football, Golf, Swimming, Racing, Basketball, Tennis, Track Field events …

To begin from the beginning, what is a brand? It is an identity, an image, a humanisation of traits & attributes that define a personality. In Bollywood – for example – the ruling troika, the Khans all offer distinctive brand characteristics. SRK is Mr. Romance. Aamir is Mr. Perfectionist. Salman, the sexy Bad Boy who exhibits masti & mischief beneath a golden heart. Virat Kohli, for his turn, has zonked popular imagination by carving a very distinct face of his own … an image that has clearly caught fire. He is many [seductively] attractive things, to many people … A fearless, aggressive, gifted cricketer; a fashion icon; a sex symbol; half of a hi-profile celebrity Power couple; a dynamic Captain who leads by example and hates to lose; a cool dude who expresses his youth through his impish, mischievous body language … His appeal also crosses gender lines because it is non-threatening – he is adored by females and lionised by males, especially Gen X. His brand equity travels well because his popularity is huge in every cricket-crazy country he has played – from Australia to Bangladesh. The camera too loves his hairstyle & expressiveness – on and off the field – making him instantly PR friendly brand celeb – a blank canvas on which smart marketers can ink their deals.

India Vs Australia 2ODI in JaipurAnother very interesting aspect to Kohli’s raging popularity is his being there at the right time & right place regarding the shifting perceptions in the public domain of what contributes a good image and translates to desirable brand equity. Purists are not amused at his exhibitionist goings-on – showing finger to the Oz crowds; going eyeball-to-eyeball with the opposition; screaming abuses while celebrating a victory, century or an opponent’s dismissal; nudging umpires & arguing with them during a recent IPL match – and wonder whether decency, decorum & the spirit of a gentleman’s game has at last found its final destination & resting place and the endpoint of human ideological evolution in the sports arena has arrived. To be brash, bold & combative is one thing but to make mockery of decency on the playing field is another … something totally unacceptable. Ever seen Dhoni, Kumble, Dravid, even Ganguli misbehave on the field or opposition, no matter how grave the provocation, they ask? His new-age fans dismiss these allegations summarily and wonder what kind of time-warp or world these guys reside in! They insist that we live in a fiercely competitive, stress-filled world where there are no free lunches and no quarters given or taken. Unlike Bollywood or politics, bloodline too doesn’t matter a fig and performance is the key; results the main driver. In today’s hi-stakes world, where there is no space for second best and the winner takes all, to be cute, polite, politically correct or diplomatic is nonsense because it doesn’t pay. Today’s cricketers – a majority of whom came from Tier 2 cities & underprivileged families – have to fight everyday with nothing but performance & results to fall back on. Virat Kohli symbolises the hot, no-nonsense, driven & possessed sportsman who will pull out the stops to win … and if someone acts unfair, funny or superior he asked for it! Isn’t there something solidly seductive about a young, mischievous & masti-achiever, who is funky, cool, fashion-friendly & adventurous, publicly romances a popular Bollywood heroine, articulate and yet fully focused on his agenda of giving it hundred & fifty percent while motivating his team to follow, they counter.

RCB/DD IPL matchBrand specialist, Ad Gurus and passionate followers of Virat Kohli are not surprised. Veteran Communication icon Alyque Padamsee believes that “young Virat brilliantly joins the dots of the object of desire quotient. He excites – through off & on the field activities – and therefore attracts both curiosity & attention; offers both surprise and delight to the unguarded. Which Brand Manager can resist this lip-smacking invitation?!” Brand Endorsement companies believe that age is on his side making him perfect for youth-specific brands. So age, youth and attitude are the main USPs dazzling his star-glow. Others point to his mischievousness, dramatic displays of on-off field passion – a la Ganguli – cool dude image, spicy, headline-grabbing romance with Bollywood star Anushka Sharma, bold, brash, defiant, don’t-give-a-crap-for-phirang dadagiri nonsense, daring pangas … all this adds colour & pizazz to the game, something that only a fl amboyant youth can offer. For marketers, performance alone is never enough. They need cutting-edge brio; spirited animation that is vigorous and vibrant unleashing energy & excitement amidst the crazy heat & dust of a competitive game that is fan-friendly.

Delhi-based Cricket fan(atic?) Shivaji Guha comes in next with all cylinders firing. Like my nephew he is totally cool about Virat’s non-politically-correct post-match statement in Sri Lanka and his body language. “Its time to physically express and articulate fearlessness & strength in the public domain because only then can it fl ash the right signals. For too long have we been the good, calm, dignified, wellbehaved guys taking loads of bullying and abuse from other teams. Virat’s on-camera statement demonstrated India’s new spirit of giving it back. Bravo!” Marketing executive Saurav Shukla however tempers this fussilade with informed thought. “There is no doubt that he is the public face of dynamic youngistan, feisty & fearless, impatient to take his team and nation ahead, but he needs to hasten slowly. Impulsive and headstrong, he must look before he leaps. His intent is spot-on and as a hugely gifted talent, he does lead from the front, but he needs to calm down …” Veteran iconic spinner Bishen Bedi agrees. The legend believes that Virat Kohli’s immense talent is an acknowledged fact. His captaincy however is a new chapter and he brings his own style & method of leadership. “The media should not constantly indulge in the hype or comparison game because it is grossly unfair and out of context. It also does nothing of value to the great game. These are very early days and we should let this brilliant cricketer settle in before we start shooting our mouth.” Bangalore-based collegiate Sapna Sharma pitches in with her spin. “All captains bring their own style of leadership to the game. Azhar, Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, M.S. and now Kohli – they are all different individuals. Everything considered, Kohli is perhaps closest to Saurav Ganguly in that he is as combative and in-your-face as Dada was. He is – more than any previous captain – also in total sync with the mood & milieu of today’s trendy youngsters, with his sexy tattoos, taut physique and fl amboyant mouthing of abuse every time a wicket falls or century is achieved! Is it a good thing? Silly question because youth, emotion, impulsiveness and hot blood seldom tangos with morality & value judgement. It all hangs out, because that’s the way it is. We love him because he represents the best of young, aspirational India and is the finest leader to take on any team because he believes in fighting fire with fire!”

maxresdefault (2)Commentators also believe that – at another level – Virat Kohli truly epitomises all the positives of cricket in terms of playing hard, playing fair and playing to win. His partnership with the astute Ravi Shastri is the best thing that happened to Indian cricket, because they both believe in “going for it, come what may.” Powered by the likes of Rohit wSharma, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma and others, who full-bloodedly back his aggression, angst & attitude to the hilt, an inspirational & motivational leader, Kohli loves challenges and South Africa promises to be a great contest under his captaincy. It is also believed that all the bad name, stigma & muck attached to IPL and its corrupt ways could be a thing of the past with the positivity that Kohli & his men bring to the table. As a veteran sports watcher put it “These are a young bunch of passionate and committed cricketers determined to zoom ahead with good, honest, on-field performances. They have a young, exciting & adventurous captain, constantly charging up the team to give their best and never unleashing anything under two hundred percent from himself. Win some, lose some … that comes with the territory, but Virat Kohli as the new, vigorous, vibrant & versatile Mr. India of Indian cricket, is undoubtedly all set to blaze new trails and scale new heights, offering a masculinity harnessed in the service of combat against other men, in a noble showdown for team & nation. We can only wish Virat and his merry men, god speed!

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