FOUR FORMER Pakistan captains, one of them a living legend, an endearing anchor, a rudimentary set, no complicated data-crunching, no over-philosophising analysis, no raised voices and no hero-worship.
This World Cup, a no-frills, rich-in-content talk show featuring cricket’s renowned pundits from Pakistan — Wasim Akram, Moin Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik — along with a pleasant presenter, Fakhr-e-Alam, with an entertainment background, has cut through the clutter and proved to be a sleeper hit.
The Pavilion, a flagship free-streaming show of A Sports, part of Pakistan’s largest media network ARY, is fast approaching the 1000k subscriber mark with most of its hour-long video capsules securing close to one million views. Among the lakhs of Indians following the show are former India captains Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly, who have publicly applauded the efforts of their one-time rivals.
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The chief architect of The Pavilion says the show’s unique free-flowing conversational format reflects their trust in the good old tradition of story-telling and their wish to sound different in the general cricket broadcasting din.
“What we have managed to achieve with The Pavilion is a function of not trying to over-complicate things. We keep it simple, we tell stories, and we try to discuss matches the way one would discuss them sitting in their lounge with their friends and family,” ARY Digital Founder and CEO Salman Iqbal shares with The Indian Express.
Giving the uncomplicated show the feel of a lounge full of family and friends is the chemistry between the five men on the screen. Akram, Moin, Misbah and Malik go back a long way. On the show, the stalwarts wear their intellect lightly, they come across as warm, cheerful and quippy friends enjoying a game of cricket. With years of experience behind them, they catch the nuance of the game and discuss it threadbare. Showing succinct and self-deprecating wit, they crack jokes and pull each other’s legs. They drop their guard and be themselves.
Akram shares his trade secret with The Indian Express – being original always works. “I have been doing this for 20 years now and eventually, it is simple math — be true and add natural humor where you can. One has to be original. Basically, just be yourself,” he says.
In the mostly Urdu-English show, Akram often switches to Punjabi, mostly when he is annoyed. After Pakistan’s loss to India, he came down heavily on South African coach Mickey Arthur. On the issue of foreign coaches demanding assistants from abroad, Akram lets it fly. “Shaam ko in logon nu galaan bhi kadhni hoti hain na (They hire assistants from their country since they have to shoot the breeze in the evenings).”
The ever-smiling Malik says Rohit Sharma’s all-out attack on the Pakistan bowling unit reminds him of his “Arabi teacher”. “He would spare no one in our class. Same is true with Rohit, he is equally harsh on all the bowlers,” he says.
Malik keeps his cricketing analysis easy. Within hours of the heavily cramping Aussie all-rounder Glenn Maxwell playing the inning of his life, the Pakistan all-rounder was ready with an explainer. He takes a bat in the hand and imitates Maxwell’s swing and compares it with a golfer teeing off. Suddenly, for a lay fan, everything fell in place. The Aussie, a regular on the green, had awakened the inner golfer in him when he had foot cramps. “I love breaking down plays from a technical point of view, but we always try to keep it conversational and something that people find easy to understand,” Malik says.
Akram credits the backroom boys for the atmosphere in the studio. He names channel owner Iqbal, TV executive Jerjees Seja and Imran Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistan Cricket Board official, for the bonhomie between the five who the world watches.
Those in the know give a sneak peak of what goes behind The Pavilion. All through the game, the five men are huddled together in front of the television. They discuss the twists and turns of the game, share meals and have friendly fights over orders.
Misbah’s alleged capacity to consume mini-mountains of rotis is often the reason for the team’s meal-time chuckle. It is also the time for the senior broadcaster Akram to tell others about the ills of having biscuits when commentating. He demonstrates how moving the tongue to wipe out the biscuit leftovers around the gums isn’t a pleasant sight for the viewers. On off-days they play cricket and train together. Before the semis, they all went scuba-diving.
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When on air, they coax each other to repeat lines and acts that had triggered laughs in the green room. Akram pulls his tongue out like a snake, to depict a Pakistan actor known for his role as a deadly “naag”. Moin provides the hissing noise in the background. Shoaib and Fakhr are in splits. In the “ask the expert” section, a fan wants to know if Misbah colours his flowing jet-black beard. “Meri daadhi, meri dye, tainu ki (My beard, my dye, what’s your problem),” he says. More laughs.
Fakhr, a veteran sports broadcaster, is a trained pilot and an award-winning actor. The fifth Beatle of this hit act, he has a long association with the four international players. He is the trusted safety net for the players as he knows where to draw the line. “Sometimes, I have to rein them in because the boys are naughty and tend to get carried away. Subtle moments when the host becomes a class monitor. We do push boundaries and sometimes we eat humble pie,” he says.
But with close to 200 million overall views for their show and critical acclaim pouring from around the world, at The Pavilion they are having their cake and eating it too.