Thiruvananthapuram: During his last vacation, Shaiju Damodaran received nearly 150 calls. Most of it were queries from parents for a centre which trains commentators.
“When I told them that I have no idea, some of them asked me why I couldn’t start one?"
Shaiju is the most popular Malayalam football commentator around and has gone globally viral during this FIFA World Cup.
His high voltage commentary, peppered with aberrant usages and one-liners laced with an extraordinary punch, captivated football fans all corners including Anand Mahindra.
Ok that’s it. I’m switching to this channel with commentary in Malayalam. No, I don’t understand the language but I don’t need to—these guys are so pumped up they make the English & Hindi commentators sound tame! pic.twitter.com/yWqApVx6jp— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) June 16, 2018
"The other day, I received a message from Christopher Raj, the media officer of FIFA that they are watching Malayalam commentary in Russia. What else can I offer to my language?” said Shaiju.
“Ray Hudson and Martin Taylor are my heroes. When I listen to Hudsons' commentary for La Liga (Spanish football league) or Taylors’ for English Premier League, I may not get the meaning verbatim. However, I get the spirit of the sport. I try and emulate that," elaborated the 45-year-old.
A household name in the state for the vigour and variety Shaiju infused into the field of commentary, he was a standard feature in the box when Kerala Blasters play in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Ever since the inception of ISL in 2014, football fans tune in just to hear Shaiju’s commentary. There are a few, though, who despise him and have termed the commentary as just theatrics
Shaiju thinks of only his fans and says, “I blend information with entertainment to make it infotainment. The audience recognises my style and the commentary.”
Recently, he signed off the Brazil-Switzerland match as “Brazil Fans 1 – Argentina Fans 1”, a sharp pointer to the exultation of Argentina fans, who were hanging their heads in shame after their team’s draw with Iceland.
"You have to be very careful in usages, especially about Argentina and Brazil. Any extra word about either of them can invite the wrath of fans."
The lead commentator has covered more than 220 ISL matches and is constantly under pressure during the World Cup from Kerala fans of the two Latin Americans teams
Shaiju says his years as a journalist with Mathrubhumi, one of the top newspapers in the state, formed his research base and innovative presentation style.
“I was a journalist for twenty years and to be accurate while commentating I go back to those roots. However, I am much happier now than during that period. I switched careers at the right time,” he quips. Shaiju began as a trainee in Mathrubhumi’s sports magazine and worked his way up. Later, he was the venue media manager when the 2017 U-17 World Cup matches were held in Kochi.
The viral star is ably aided by his expert commentator Bineesh Kiran. “Shaiju chettan (brother) belongs to a different league than the rest of us,” said the former captain of Kerala’s football team, Bineesh.
“I entered the arena of commentary without any formal training. However, as a footballer, I know how to deal with the new situations. I have tried to get in tandem with Shaiju chettan. I am still astonished to see the amount of hard work and dedication he shows ahead of each match. On average, we have three matches a day which means 100 minutes for each game,” said Bineesh.
The football market in Kerala was one of the strongest in the country and it will only grow bigger with every generation. “There was no Malayalam commentary during the last World Cup. Now you see it for every other football festival,” said Shaiju.