'I am mentally strong enough to tackle trolling': Mayanti Langer Binny

I am mentally strong enough to tackle trolling: Mayanti Langer Binny

Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Fri 5 Oct 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 5 Oct 2018, 10:26 PM

Live television is not for the faint-hearted. least of all when it comes to sports. Between anxiety and jubilation, a sports presenter has to negotiate a range of temperaments. Do the challenges multiply if the presenter in question is a woman talking about a game largely populated by men? Or is the label itself - that of a 'female' presenter - damaging? One of the most popular sports presenters in India, Mayanti Langer Binny feels gender is not exactly the prism with which one should look at the job. Binny, who has hosted cricket, hockey and football tournaments and now hosts Cricket Live on Star Sports in India, was in UAE for the recently-concluded Asia Cup when WKND caught up with her for a chat on the challenges and the perks of her job.
How did your interest in sports develop?
I did part of my schooling in the US. My brother and I were pushed into playing sports during the weekend. That's how I developed a love for football. When I came back to India, I pursued sports as an after-school activity. Those were the times when we were also watching a lot of football, checking out the European leagues. An all-girls football league had been set up and I was asked to manage it. I did it as a part-time gig, but that got attention. A channel was launching back then and they were looking for girls who were interested in football. That's when I was roped in. It's not something that I had intended to pursue, I was just a fan eagerly watching the sport. But a lot of things came together.
As a presenter, how did you go about creating your own template?
I began with football as that's a game I'd really loved. In fact, I didn't want to do cricket until I was forced to by my network. So, the only template for me was to be natural. When I started hosting, I started with T20, which had just started then. Over the years, I have worked with a good team of producers, analysts and commentators, who not only talk about the nuances of the game but also relive their own memories on the ground. As a presenter, I need to facilitate a story, which is the match, introduce the characters and talk about the heroes and the villains (laughs).
What does the preparation entail?
I have studied English literature, and love to read about the history that goes into the writing. That's something I am able to apply to this profession as well. I read up on the history of the game. It's homework that one needs to do.
How important is it to be a good listener?
I am not sure if it's important to be a good listener. It's more about negotiating a conversation. If I am a viewer, I'd much rather listen to Sunil Gavaskar talk on an India-versus-Pakistan match. What's the use of just me recounting that? Experts have memories and perceptions that add to the conversation.
Coming to the India-Pakistan matches, how has the frenzy revolving around these matches changed in the last decade?
For us, as broadcasters, we are very excited about the build-up to this rivalry. We may or may not have witnessed the best of it over the past decade. For me, the most exciting part is to have commentators relive their memories of playing the match - the whole talk of the camaraderie and the friendly banter. India-Pakistan matches are also about bragging rights - you can view those encounters in so many different ways. I have seen players hug each other and then when they play, there's intense rivalry. This range of emotions is what I appreciate most about witnessing these matches from close quarters.
Not too long ago in India, there was a constant rueing of the fact that no other sport enjoys as much popularity as cricket. As someone who's seen and worked across hockey, football and cricket, do you think that perception has changed?
Definitely! The fact that a sport like kabaddi gets such high numbers (in terms of viewership) is extraordinary. The Asian Games were fantastic, especially in athletics, which is where we hadn't seen desired results in a long time. This is where social media helps. Because players feel comfortable sharing their journey on social media, fans gets to know them closely. So, there is a familiarity and people are more aware of who's doing what.
You have a fairly robust following on social media. How imperative is it for someone, who is in your space, to have a prominent social media presence?
I don't think I have a huge social media following as compared to other people in the industry. I think I am a social media target. I am a little old school when it comes to handling social media - I feel it should be used as a tool to spread positivity and information. For the most part, I am quite reserved there. All I do is promote our show and that's a collective effort. I am a fairly private person, and I don't think I have used social media to promote myself. Having said that, yes, it's the new way forward. A lot of people have been able to make careers by just being on social media.
How do you handle the trolling that comes your way?
It's going to be a short answer - I ignore it! I believe I am mentally strong enough to tackle it. I think we all understand that a lot of people are just there to garner attention, and social media is a great tool for that.
An article in Buzzfeed made an observation that you bear the "added brunts of fashion and sexiness". Your thoughts on that perception.
I haven't read the article. If it was written about me, I wasn't asked for my opinion, my voice is not there in that article. I don't think I bear the brunt of fashion and sexiness. I don't represent either industries - I am just a sports presenter who's mostly talking about cricket or football matches.
You have hosted several World Cup matches across cricket, hockey and football. As a female presenter, how do you navigate these vastly different sports?
I don't view myself as a woman sports presenter. Gender does not play a role in the way I host a show, my responsibilities don't change. They're actually the same as my male colleagues. You're fronting a team and it doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman. If I have to send out a message to any young women who would like to enter the profession, it'd be this: the way people say "female sports presenter" is not nice. It gives you an automatic disadvantage. We never say, so and so is a male presenter. We are sports presenters first, and everything else later.
As a sports presenter, what has been your most memorable moment on the job?
For me, having to host the 2010 Football World Cup alongside John Dykes was huge. I grew up watching him, and to be given the same responsibilities as him was surreal. That is when I began to believe that I could handle big tournament responsibilities.
You're married to Stuart Binny, who is a cricketer himself. Does cricket invade much of the conversations at home?
I don't think you can talk cricket all the time. We are building a life together and have what you'd call a 'normal, married couple' relationship (laughs).

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