Shreyas Kulkarni

The tale behind Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s Mr. Nags

Danish Sait, the actor behind this affable personality, tells us about the life of one of IPL’s most famous characters.

There are three constants in the life of IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB): Virat Kohli, Ee Sala Cup Namde, and Mr. Nags.

Our focus today is on the cheeky, bespectacled-moustached fellow obsessed with ‘peas’ (peace in his mind), who cannot hold a serious interview to save his life and drops very factual press conferences after RCB’s matches.  

A decade since his appearance, Mr. Nags has somehow appointed himself as the face of the team’s social media and content and is perhaps the second oldest and most famous individual of RCB after Kohli.

His origins go much older, says Danish Sait, the actor behind the Mr. Nags persona. Sait used to do improv comedy shows, and radio for Hindustan Times’ Fever 104 FM where he’d make prank calls.

“When I’d make those prank calls, I would create a character called Nograj,” explains Sait, during one of his improv shows, then RCB business head Nikhil Sosale was in attendance; he met Sait and said, “We need to do something.” 

Sosale, in his mind, wanted to recreate what actor Sasha Baron Cohen had done with his Ali G personality where he’d do hilariously sarcastic interviews with athletes and celebrities.

“Two years later, we were doing Mr Nags,” remarks Sait. He was 25 or 26 years of age when he started doing it; he turns 36 this year. 

Mr. Nags’ claim to fame comes from an RCB sponsor shoot he crashed, shocking everyone including Kohli who was getting ready in front of the mirror. “It blew up on the internet because nobody had seen anything like that.”

Everything happened on the fly in that shoot crash and so did most of the stuff viewers saw on RCB’s social media channels until three years ago.

“It's gotten more professional. I have some good comedian friends who help me out with the writing because I need a fresh perspective as the idea is to bring something new every time,” he explains. 

The most important aspect of Mr. Nags is humour, incidental or not, and it comes from an observation he made about sports broadcasting: “Nobody humanises the cricketers. The sport has been reduced to a bunch of people wanting to win.”

And this has made him bring up interesting facets and something new each time he appears on the camera. 

For instance, he recounts the Women’s Premier League (WPL) – he famously crashed RCB Women’s trophy celebrations and tried to steal credit for their championship success – and his interviews with Shreyanka Patil, Kate Cross and Sophie Devine, and Smriti Mandhana.

“We didn't hold back on punchlines. You know, I didn't hold back on cracking a joke or taking a stab at someone... all interviews ended with a lot of promise.” 

Credit for this also goes to Sait studying improv comedy in the United States. “Improv comedy has one basic rule that you got to make your co-actor look good,” he says.

Over the years, many RCB players have developed their own relationship with Mr Nags. “I don't tell them ‘Hey, you got to be a love character or hate character or an anti’, they all have their own equation with Mr. Nags.”

While he’s been with the team for a decade, it was when the IPL was played inside a bubble because of the Coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Nags got another big boost in viewers’ minds because he was part of the bubble. 

Sponsors for his interviews started showing up. This year, it is online grocer BigBasket. Sait says he has no say at all in this aspect and it is all between the franchise and the sponsor. 

“The whole negotiation piece is between the brand and the franchise, I'm just given the deliverables and told, ‘Hey, man, listen, this is what we need to incorporate. But otherwise, go on and do whatever you're doing.’ I try and integrate the guidelines.”

Mr. Nags’ interviews may have a huge following, but his post-match press conferences are not too far behind. Filled with characters one would conjure for a Tinkle comic or a Malgudi Days show, its light humour helps beat stress for at least a few minutes. 

It is but natural that Sait and his writing team watch the match and by now, they come up with jokes or pointers seeing the direction the match is taking. They write the script for the press conference immediately after the game. “Say the match gets over by 10.45 pm-11 pm, by 12.15 am, we are done with the shoot.”

They package the video and send it to RCB’s head of sports content Ajit Ramamurthy who then approves it or suggests any edits if needed. 

Sait’s writing team of Avinash Balekkala and Kritarth Srinivasan are with him for all his work and not only for RCB. They wrote the script for a video in which RCB collabed with Google Pay, and one where the team officially changed its name from Royal Challengers Bangalore to Royal Challengers Bengaluru.

You'd expect to see these spots mostly on YouTube, which for many years was the team’s main distribution channel, but now the team is comfortable with most social media platforms. RCB is one of the most followed sports teams in the world on Instagram with over 14 million followers. 

Sait also credits Kalveer Biradar, one of the first folks to join RCB’s digital team, and is often referenced in Mr. Nags’ videos – to a first-time watcher, Kalveer will come across as a hassled intern whose main responsibility is to edit the insults folks throw at Mr. Nags.

It takes a village to raise a child and Mr. Nags and his team have raised the RCB online brand from an infant into a prominent presence, both online and in peoples’ minds. Like all Indian parents wanting to see their child settled, the hope remains that the men’s team (like the women) change Ee Sala Cup Namde to Ee Sala Cup Namdu.

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