If you are a cricket fan in India, chances are along with the likes of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandaya et al, there is another name that has almost become synonymous with our consumption of the sport.
Mayanti Langer has, over the last few years, become the face of the Indian cricket broadcast on television. From the studios in Mumbai to cricket stadiums all over the world, the 33-year-old sports presenter has made her mark in the male-dominated field of sports broadcasting.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Firstpost spoke to Langer in an exclusive interview about her journey in the industry, the challenges that she has faced as a woman and her strong beliefs on owning and flaunting her femininity.
"When I started in this profession – and it's been more than a decade for me – I never defined myself as a "female" sports presenter. Initially, I just took gender out of the equation. And that's something that I still do,” Langer says when asked how difficult it has been for her to establish herself as a female presenter.
“I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of people who have given me the same sort of responsibilities and the same sort of expectations that they would have of male anchors. So they have also taken gender out of the equation.
“It is a male-dominated industry, more so because there have just been roles that have been created only for men. But there are women who do those roles now,” she adds.
Langer’s mantra to her success: “If in your own head, you take that whole perception away, then it's not that challenging. Because if you want to be the best, you have to be the best irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman. There are no shortcuts.”
Langer started her presenting career in 2006 with Zee Sports by hosting a football show and has since then covered different sports and events that include hockey, Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup and more. Over the past few years, she has pre-dominantly anchored shows for cricket, covering all three formats. .
“When I started, there were some women who had done cricket before, like Mandira Bedi and Roshni Chopra. But I started in football, and there were no women in football. So I was like a rare species.
“I was pretty young – I was in my twenties, just out of college – and suddenly the responsibilities of regenerating (interest in) Indian football were thrust upon me. That was perhaps the biggest challenge,” Langer recalled.
Langer admits that initially she was quite reluctant to take up cricket due to its popularity in India. “I was very resistant to cricket because it was so well-known, and everyone knows something about cricket. It is a huge challenge being a cricket presenter and maintaining neutrality. Not having any sort of bias is very crucial.”
It didn’t take long for Langer to get comfortable with the sport and today, she is the most recognised cricket anchor. She says she focuses on getting the best out of her experts and analysts, and considers herself a bridge between the fans and the cricketing legends.
“Every cricket tournament is a huge challenge because cricket is what pumps the veins in this country. It's like a religion in this country. So you are always constantly trying to represent what the fans want, and you are trying to represent what the players want, and you are just trying to be the medium between everything. So that is I think the most difficult part of the job,” she says.
When Bedi first hosted the Champions Trophy in 2002, she charted a new path as one of the first women in India to sit with a panel of male experts and discuss cricket. However, Bedi was often objectified and criticised for her sartorial choices – from her noodle strap blouses to her saris, it was what she was wearing that matter more to the audience, than what she had to say.
Have things changed in 2018? “Things haven’t changed at all!”, Langer exclaims in exasperation.
“What she (Mandira Bedi) did was very brave. No one had done it before. And she in a sense just revolutionised the way that a beautiful woman could be on television and talk serious sport,” Langer says.
Langer says her wardrobe is constantly under scrutiny, and a quick glance at her Twitter replies show that there are men and women both who object to her style of dressing. “I am pretty sure the height of my heels, or the length of my hemlines are not going to affect the result of a cricket match. It's not going to happen.
“So many people say that women are a distraction if they are wearing dresses and walking around a cricket field. Please, give the players a little more credit. They have a job to do – play a cricket match. They are not there to stare at women, they don't do that.
“Let's give our audience a little more credit. Only short skirts are not going to pull them in. It's your presentation that is going to pull them in,” she says.
Langer says that she firmly believes in looking her best on television. When asked if she thinks that women anchors are only hired to add a glamour quotient, she says that she doesn’t find anything wrong with that.
“Look, if you are sitting in front of the camera, you are at least going to want to look approachable. There is nothing wrong with dressing up.
“I may be a sports presenter, and I may like my sports but I still like my make-up. I still like wearing good clothes, and I still enjoy wearing heels – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. So if you are going to call that the "glamour quotient", it's fine.
“Whether you are a woman or a man, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look your best,” she reiterates.
Langer’s unabashed pride in her own femininity and her desire to continue to work to become the best stand out as we continue our conversation. Not only has she never buckled down to the constant nitpicking and disapproval levelled at her on social media, she also continues to set an example for other women to follow.
“We have a lot of women presenters on Star Sports. And all of us want to look our best, and all of us are wearing our dresses and have our make-up and have our heels, and we are very proudly flaunting all of that. But we are the ones fronting your shows. And we are very happy with that sort of responsibilities,” she says.
Talking about how the perception around female anchors hasn’t changed at all, Langer says: “Nothing has really changed in the sense that there is still a lot of conversation – from men and women, it's not just restricted to the male gaze – about the skirts and the heels.
“Maybe that will change in time, maybe some people are still drawn in because of that but hopefully they are staying because they are enjoying our shows.
“It's not like I am trying to make a conscious effort to change that (perception), I am just ignoring it. I am going to continue to wear what I am wearing, and be happy with that and I am going to continue to host shows. I am not going to buckle to any pressure to dress down or dress up,” she says with a confident smile.
Langer chooses to look at the bright side of things and points out that there are more women working in this industry now than when she started out.
“Some things have changed now,” she says. “There are two women here, talking about sports on Women's Day. Every time I walk into the stadium, there are so many girls. There are so many women working behind the scenes at Star Sports – our producers, anchors, analysts etc are women. So definitely, things have changed in a way.”
Watch the video above for full conversation with Mayanti Langer
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2018 12:49:28 IST