Team Ekalavyas’ Vishnu Ravi Shankar and Anukriti Bishen caught up with actor and MTV VJ Rannvijay Singha after the NBA Jam held at Cyber Hub, Gurugram to get to know a bit about Rannvijay’s association with basketball and his thoughts on the sport in India today.
Vishnu: Tell us about your playing days.
I played a lot, man. I started playing when I was really young. My mum played for Punjab, she played nine nationals – all her school, college life. My dad played in the Army. So, we were a basketball kind of family. Everywhere my dad was posted, whenever we had the opportunity to have a group at home, we used to have one. I got better at the game when I was at boarding school, then came back to Delhi, I was playing for APS, Dhaula Kuan, which was one of the best teams at that time – we won numerous tournaments in 11th and 12th. I went to Hans Raj, I played the nationals. I got into a good college because I was good at the game – you don’t need a cut-off of 95% or that kind of percentage if you’re good at a sport, a vocation or dramatics or something like that. That’s how I got into Hans Raj college which was one of the best things that happened to me because they didn’t have a basketball court which meant that in the first year, if I was serious about the sport, I would play in the first five. Whereas, my best friend went to SR and another couple of people from that batch went to Stephen’s, Hindu and KPMC, which were options for me also. They didn’t get to play in the first year. I got the exposure in the first year. By my third year, we had won the Delhi University championship. Hans Raj didn’t even have a court, but when I left the college, we had a basketball court, we had a university championship and we had 12 championships under the belt. I got all my fees refunded because I was on scholarship. They’ve kept up the record even now starting from 2002-03 when I was in college.
I also went to the USA at that time for a holiday and got myself admitted into a college. Thing is, my knee is a problem and also, at that time, I came back and when I was trying to go back to the States, the 9/11 attacks had happened. I was anyway enjoying Hans Raj college, so I decided to stick around, go to the Army and have a good, sports-filled life, which changed with Roadies!
Vishnu: Now, you see a lot of focus on other sports in India.
I wish NBA India was present like this at that time. It would have been wonderful. All the guys working for the NBA are all basketball players, enthusiasts, who want to spread awareness about basketball. If all of this was happening then, you know the right coaching, the right drills, the right kind of nutritional advice, I think we would be stronger players and more competitive in the world. But nevertheless, it’s happening now. Our team is doing well. We defeated China. You see a lot of talent here. Sim Bhullar has been drafted. Satnam Singh is 7’1” or something. So, we’re working on it. We’re a billion people, man. So, there’s space for every sport. People say ‘Cricket ke alava kuch nahi hota’ (there’s nothing happening apart from Cricket). Aisa nahi hai, cricket ke alava Kabaddi bhi chala hai. Badminton bhi hai (It’s not like that, Kabbadi is also popular and so is Badminton). So, everything is happening. See, you need support. There’s Sprite, there’s Adidas, there’s jabong.com – all of these guys are helping the cause of basketball, which is great. As a sport, I think it’s very attractive. You don’t have to be a basketball player to enjoy the game. Its like dance, you don’t have to be a great dancer to watch somebody dance and perform. I think it’ll bring a lot of joy to people. It’s a short game. I think a lot of the initiative that NBA India has taken in the last three years has worked for them and it’s doing well. You see NBA players in India now, you’re shooting hoops with them – what else do you want?!
Anukriti: How do you combat the fact that people would know a LeBron or a Kobe but not a player on the Indian national basketball team like a Pratham Singh or an Amjyot Singh?
People don’t even know Ranji players in India. Just because a player is not known and the media is not after that person, that doesn’t mean he should stop playing the sport. People who play for the Indian Overseas Bank, the Railways, etc., they get paid, they get proper jobs, they’re professionals. And that’s been happening for a long time. So, you should always see the positive side of the story. When we used to play, we didn’t have the best shoes to play basketball. There was no Adidas or other brands, but we still played. Today, if somebody is really good, there’s no stopping you. You put a video online, you call NBA India, you come for one of these events. If you’re talented, you’ll get picked up straightaway. Our boys are getting sponsorships and will continue to get more and more recognition.
Vishnu: If a professional basketball league were to start in India, would you be interested in buying a team? Which city would you be interested in?
I’d love to buy a team. I’d probably be interested in buying a team in Chandigarh or one of the other cities in Punjab.
Anukriti: Would you be interested in acting in a basketball centric film?
I’ve been asked to do a few, but the scripts weren’t strong enough and the production houses backing them weren’t big enough. I think if I spend a month or so playing, I’ll be back in basketball shape!
Anukriti: Favourite team, favourite player?
It keeps changing. Till Michael Jordan was playing, I was watching everything the Chicago Bulls were doing. I even watched the Washington Wizards when he came back. Now, I’m thinking should I be supporting Charlotte, because he’s a majority owner. I like players – I follow Kobe a lot. I like underdogs, I think the Bulls have a good lineup this season. I used to love Heat also. I’d love to see a new team – maybe the Bulls – resurrect themselves.
*This interview was conducted in November 2014, on the sidelines of Bruce Bowen’s India visit.