Keeping his ear to the ground: Anupam Mukherji at work in his Pitch Invasion office. (Photo courtesy: Anupam)
We all know that he loves his cricket, and — from the reactions to his anonymous blog that was nothing short of a Bollywood potboiler in itself — his movies too. So it is not surprising that Anupam Mukherji, better known as the Fake IPL Player, picked the Matrix metaphor to describe his leap of faith.
Anupam, the anonymous blogger who took the cricketing world by storm during IPL 2009, says, “…Eventually, I convinced myself to accept my destiny of spending my life doing something I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to do. And, just as I got used to that idea, Fake IPL Player happened to me. I knew, then, that this was the last opportunity fate had given me. It was a ‘blue pill-red pill’ moment from Matrix. I could take the blue pill and stay on the predictive path or take the red pill and take a leap of faith. But I had learnt my lesson and, when life offered a last shot at the red pill, I took it.”
After the blog, Anupam published a satirical novel called The Gamechangers and now runs ‘Pitch Invasion’ (www.pitch-invasion.in), an online radio station he founded that does live cricket shows during match hours.
Anupam was a guest speaker at the first INK Salon held in Bangalore on August 11. He is also an INK2011 Fellow.
Dipti Nair from INK caught up with him in an email interview to know more. Excerpts from the interview.
Q: You talk about fate always tempting us…testing us, and there is a propensity to succumb. What does it take to hold the resolve? How did you keep the temptation at bay?
A: I guess one learns as life goes on. I am not qualified to say what it takes to hold the resolve, but I can talk about my own experience. In the past, I had been guilty of succumbing to the temptations. And, when similar temptations showed up again, I was able to identify them.
During the two years of MBA, all I thought of was sports and media. However, at the time of placement, I got lured by much higher salaries being offered by conventional industries. What followed was four years of frustration in the corporate world.
During those years I realized that comparative salaries, designation, and symbolic success meant very little to me. I was ready to give it all up for work that would satisfy me creatively. I quit my job quite impulsively and moved from Bangalore to Mumbai to build a career in media. After a year of struggle, I got lucky and was commissioned to produce a series of sports documentary programs. I spent a year working on them and was happy with the way things were shaping up.
But the media industry is a tough place to survive, especially if you come with no background or contacts. After I finished the documentaries, I was without work for a few months and was helplessly watching my bank balance dwindle to a level where a vada pav (Indian snack) would soon become a luxury. Again, I was faced with two options. Stick out the tough period or go back to my comfort zone.
I got myself a consulting assignment with Hewlett-Packard for six months during which I would earn enough money to survive in Mumbai for another 18 months. But, those six months ended up becoming 22 months during which I moved back to Bangalore and set up a marketing communications firm.
Business was doing well but deep down I knew I had taken the easier way out. My heart was still not in it. Eventually, I convinced myself to accept my destiny of spending my life doing something I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to do. And, just as I got used to that idea, Fake IPL Player happened to me.
I knew, then, that this was the last opportunity fate had given me. It was a ‘blue pill-red pill’ moment from Matrix. I could take the blue pill and stay on the predictive path or take the red pill and take a leap of faith. But I had learnt my lesson and, when life offered a last shot at the red pill, I took it.
Q: How would you describe passion?
A: Passion is better than sex.
Q: We know what the Fake IPL Player thought about cricketers and cricket. What is your personal opinion of our ‘celebrated’ cricketers and cricket?
A: Well, cricketers are sportsmen earning their livelihood by plying their trade just like the rest of us. In India, they are given demigod status because cricket almost stands for national pride.
I respect them for their talent. I enjoy watching good sport being played. I also respect their mental fortitude. I believe those who succeed at that level are mentally stronger than 99.9% of the rest of humanity. For example, even if I had the talent of MS Dhoni, would I have the guts to promote myself ahead of Yuvraj Singh in a world cup finals? I am pretty sure ‘No’. I respect most of them.
At the same time, many of them are guilty of throwing away their god-gifted talent for momentary pleasures. I feel sorry for them. I also know it’s quite natural to get tempted. If you’re 21 or 22, already a billionaire, the game is coming easy to you, women are throwing themselves on you. it’s not unnatural to get swayed by it. It’s important to have family and friends around who can show them the mirror. But many end up going down the drain. I feel sorry for them.
Q: How did your family react to your giving up a ‘stable’ job and your blog’s popularity? What do they feel about your celeb status?
A: Family wasn’t happy about me leaving a stable job. The thing is that from the outside everything seemed perfect about my life. Only I felt the suffocation of life in a cubicle. And, I could see how corporate life was killing my soul. A line from the movie Shawshank Redemption spoke to me. “Some birds are not meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright.”
My dad was very excited about the blog and its popularity. My mom was worried about the backlash and feared for my safety. And, celeb status? What’s that? (smiles)
Q: You were inspired by the fake Steve Jobs blog…in your opinion why do people read fake blogs?
A: I think, if people know its fake, they read it just for the humor. But, sometimes there’s an element of doubt about the fakeness. Is it the real guy? That’s what keeps people hooked on.
Q: What sort of role models are the youth looking for today?
A: Unfortunately, I am not the youth anymore so I really don’t know. But I am very moved by what I saw at the Freedom Park in Bangalore during the Anna Hazare movement. The number of students who were there to support the cause tells me that the spirit of the youth is still alive in our country. I think about 15 years ago, the youth were looking up only to the rich. The ends justified the means. I remember a few friends from college who wanted to join the IAS or IPS to make money. I would like to believe that they are a small minority amongst the youth today.
Q: Why did you think KKR had all the right ingredients to make a potboiler? And did SRK ever get in touch?
A: I think the back room drama with Buchanan, Ganguly, SRK and the multiple captaincy theory made it very potboiler worthy. Ganguly was, of course, the most influential member in the team. Yet, he wasn’t calling the shots officially. That itself is enough masala for a soap opera. I knew there were a lot of conspiracy theories I could play with. And it had a very strong polarized following. It was easy to stir up public emotion around it.
Q: Why do you think your book, The Gamechangers, did not create as big an impact as the Fake IPL Player?
A: One, the English fiction market in India is small. Two, largely the success of the blog was based on the general feeling that it was really an insider giving real gossip. The book, while dabbling in real-like situations, was quite clearly fictional. As soon as Indian Premier League became Indian Bollywood League (in the book) it lost the reality edge the blog had. At the same time, for an English fiction book, it did quite well.
Q: What are your future plans for Pitch Invasion?
A: I would like to touch more people’s lives with Pitch Invasion, get many more people to enjoy the experience. As an online social cricket viewing experience, it’s quite unique and I do believe most people have a latent need for something like this. I would like to create many more ‘social’ and ‘sharable’ features on it, provide a more comprehensive social experience around cricket. I would like to provide listeners the choice of several ‘user generated streams’ on Pitch Invasion. Eventually, it is also possible that every individual could become a content creator and broadcaster on Pitch Invasion.
Q: Are there any other books in the horizon?
A: Yes, there is a possibility.
Q: There are some plans for a film as well. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
A: I spent the second half of 2010 trying to write a film script. But I never got to the end of it. I would constantly chop and change the story, sometimes abort a script midway and jump to another story. The film script is the only thing in my life that I started and didn’t finish.
Probably, I was motivated for the wrong reason. I was probably writing the script because I wanted to write a script and not because I had a story in me bursting to come out. And that’s why I was never happy with the story. So, for now, I have put the film plans on hold. I am putting all my energies into Pitch Invasion. At some point in the future, when a story calls out to me, inshallah, I will get back to it.