Not easy for IAF commentators

Commentating is an additional responsibility, and a team goes all out to help lay people understand what’s happening in the air.

(From left) Prabhjeet Singh, Arpita Mukherjee, Zuffila Batra and Soniya Balwant Sharma.

As aircraft and helicopters whizz through the skies, the rousing commentary keeps you on the edge of your seat during Aero India.

At work is a team of four entrusted with the task of entertaining and educating the audience during the aerial extravaganza. Metrolife finds out more about the voice of the Air Force.

It can’t all be scripted: Wg Cdr Prabhjeet Singh
He is the leader of the commentary team. With 22 years experience in the Indian Air Force, his primary job is that of flying navigator. He has been on the Aero India panel of commentators since 2007. He has done commentary for the annual Air Force Day parade and other events as well. 

“When you are on the mic, you require situational awareness, especially in a dynamic situation like Aero India. It cannot be completely scripted, you have to play by the ear,” he says.

Singh’s love of public speaking led him to pick up the commentator’s job, for which there is no specific training in the Air Force.

“If people express interest to become commentators, we, as senior commentators, take them under our wing and help them. For this, they must have command and control over English and Hindi. You have to coordinate well with all the peripheral agencies, including the event managers, and recover from a situation if required,” he says.

For him, Aero India continues to be the most challenging event, in terms of commentary, because it is dynamic. “If an unfortunate incident like a crash happens, you need to take charge of the situation because you are on the mic and you are the one audible to the entire audience,” he says. 

Singh has 6,000 flying hours to his credit on the aircraft such as the Avro, IL-76 MD and IL -78 MKI. So what happens when his aircraft is performing at an event commentary is also required? “That is where the operational aspect will take priority. If the Air Force feels I am required to fly, then I will. My aircraft did not fly at Aero India so I could concentrate on commentary.”

RJ past comes in handySqd Ldr Arpita Mukherjee

An accountant officer and part of the ground duty team, she has completed nine years in the Indian Air Force and been on the commentary team since her commissioning. “I was an RJ earlier so it was easy for me. RJing and this kind of commentary are similar since they are dynamic. However, RJing is more fun and frolic where you can be a little frivolous in passing comments but we work in a zero-error environment here. It involves technical terms you need to know; you can’t say something that is not correct or approximately correct,” she says.  She has also done a commentary for the Republic Day parade in Delhi.

Classroom skills helpSqd Ldr Soniya Balwant Sharma

An education officer working in the Indian Air Force for six years, she teaches new recruits. “All new joinees come to our training institutes where we train them on different aspects of the military bearing,” she says.

Doing commentary since her cadet days, Soniya is the official commentator for the Subroto Cup football tournament, a famous inter-school event organised by the Air Force. This is her first time at Aero India.

“The most important thing is that you have to be aware of what is happening real time, like delays and advancements, and talk accordingly. We also observe the mood of the audience and modulate our commentary accordingly,” she says. 

Still, mistakes do happen but they know how to cover them up and move on quickly. “For example, if I say light utility vehicle instead of light utility helicopter, I will manage by saying light utility vehicle in the air,” she says with a laugh.

Mom’s push in schoolFlt Ltn Zuffila Batra

She has completed five years in the Air Force, and represents the fifth generation of her family in the armed forces. She is now in the fighter controller stream.

“We control all fighters, transport planes, helicopters, everything in the skies in our area. Any plane entering our country or flying over it has to take our permission. Apart from our daily surveillance duties, we also practise for war where we simulate some flights as friendly and others as ‘enemies’. I have to inform our pilots about the position of the enemy, when he has to launch the missile, what he should do and so on,” she explains. 

Zuffila, whose first posting was in Bengaluru, says her mother prepared her for public speaking in her school days. Timing is of utmost importance during a commentary, she observes.

“If I am doing the commentary for a Presidential standard parade, where the President gives the flag to one unit, I have to know the exact time his vehicle arrives, the second he will get down and start walking, the second he will start speaking, and so on. We keep a clock in front of us and coordinate with others on the ground,” she
says. 

This year’s Aero India is bigger. So commentators need to know the profile of each pilot, how he is going to fly, and what his next manoeuver will be.

“All of this just be looking and observing as we can’t talk to them once they are in the air,” she says.

 

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