HomeCricketSign language commentary in IPL brings stadium, game alive for deaf community

Sign language commentary in IPL brings stadium, game alive for deaf community


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Seconds after Virat Kohli is dismissed during the Royal Challengers Bangalore match against Lucknow Super Giants on April 2, Kinjal Shah’s expression on the bottom right-hand corner of the television screen catches the atmosphere at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

With her right index finger, she draws an imaginary circle, indicating the stadium, before making a screaming expression. The next moment, both her hands come down together, palms down, indicating the drop in noise levels. Then, it’s finger on the lips to indicate the total silence at the stadium. In a matter of seconds, the deaf community experiences what a pin-drop silence feels like in a packed arena of nearly 35,000.

This IPL, Star Sports 3 has joined hands with India Signing Hands (ISH), a Mumbai-based broadcast company, to add Indian Sign Language interpretation to its feed. While the Hindi language commentary is on, a sign language interpreter provides a live commentary targeted at the 63 million deaf people in India, many of them cricket enthusiasts. This is the first known instance of sign language being used for live commentary for any sports in India.

Watching the sign language interpreter on television from his residence at Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, Alok Kejriwal, founder & CEO of India Signing Hands, tells The Indian Express that it’s the first time in his 50 years of watching cricket that he has felt included. “Earlier, when a cricketer walked into the stadium, it didn’t feel too different from when any person walks in. I wasn’t hearing what his previous record at the venue was and what duel he had had with a bowler. I never knew what the atmosphere was when Dhoni or Kohli walked into a stadium or when they were dismissed. Now I can feel the noise when they walk in or the silence at the ground. Moreover, I’m able to watch it with everyone. These are new experiences…to watch it with friends and family. We sat as equals,” says the 62-year-old.

Minutes before the match begins, the interpreter builds the excitement by starting with the countdown before the first ball is bowled. From there on, they translate every word of the Hindi commentary, providing insights that the deaf community probably never experienced during a cricket match.

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What stands out in their interpretation are the expressions that convey different emotions. For example, in case of a thrilling close call that is referred to the third umpire, the interpreters refer to the heart beat, indicating the tension in the air.

“When it comes to sign language, expressions are like grammar,” says Mansi Dharmaraj Shah, an interpreter for the IPL. “Without the expressions, the deaf community will not experience the entire picture. It will look flat and the language will remain incomplete. It will only resemble a gesture. So expressions are important,” she adds.

On the night of April 2, during the RCB-LSG faceoff, it was Kinjal and Shivoy Sharma who captured the game and the atmosphere for the benefit of the deaf community.

For instance, when Krunal Pandya dropped Anuj Rawat, Kinjal banged her hand on the table and sported a quizzical expression, as the Hindi commentator loudly wondered how someone could drop such an easy catch. Then as the on-air commentators spoke about how Mayank Yadav’s pace and bounce were leaving the batsmen rattled, Shivoy wore a fearful expression, made a gesture to suggest the extra bounce and used the sign of a fast-moving train as a metaphor to indicate pace.

“We exaggerate our expressions because it helps them understand better. At the same time, it is important to speak to them about the game. It should not just be about what happens around it,” Mansi says.

To bring cricketing elements into the sign language commentary, the interpreters sought help from the Indian deaf community cricketers, who had gestures for different shots and cricketing terms. For instance, if a batsman plays a straight drive for a boundary, the interpreter shows the direction it is played. A flick shot has the interpreter flipping her hands.

All of it means the deaf community will not miss out on any cricketing wisdom that is shared on air.

“We are able to understand and actually be a part of the game. We are getting to know the minute details, the battles that are shaping up. There are so many terminologies in cricket, which we are able to connect with now. These things elevate our experience to a different level. And more importantly, we are not left out of conversations with friends and family. We can also become a part of it. Earlier, I would ask my family for details and they would only give a brief summary of what was going on. I can be on my own now,” Kejriwal says.

For a tournament with commentary in 12 languages, the introduction of another has made it more inclusive.

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