The Virat Kohli Compass

The Virat Kohli Compass

Swagger and success, batting genius and brand endorsements—will the Indian cricket captain outlive these charms to remain the man he is imagined to be?

When an invite for a media round table with Virat Kohli for the launch of his personalized Tissot watch popped up in my inbox two weeks back, the needle moved in my mind. “Celebrity appearances” around luxury products, fancy stores or book launches are routinely sent out as bait to fashion journalists but I made a considered decision to fall for this one. I wanted to be at the roundtable, knowing too well that I may not get more than one and half questions in.

I am a Virat Kohli fan though I don’t follow cricket as a game or a religion. My best friend is a well-known sports journalist and Kohli is often on the top of our cricketer gossip not just because he is skipper, dapper, the best batsman of his age across all formats and wears his inheritor of gain (in cricket) role quite well. But also because he is an enduring symbol of young, fit, unerringly disciplined in exercise and diet schedules and insanely gifted men in India. A man who married his girlfriend at, what emotional buas, the busybees of the Indian matrimonial universe call “the right time”. 29 years baba. That’s when the Sabyasachi sherwanis and Raghavendra Rathore bandhgalas fit the best. That’s when marriage is fun, even after the wedding party is over.

There are other values. Kohli has an insurance worthy beard (or so he told a magazine), nine intriguing tattoos, mixes swagger with vanity like lime-ice and is married to a charming movie star. He looks good in Gucci and Pucci (the former he has worn often on magazine covers, the latter is my cheap attempt at rhyming), has his own fashion label called Wrogn and his endorsement has given Manyawar an averagely designed, ethnic wear brand from Delhi a firm foothold in the fashion retail business.

So yes there are as many stories about his arrogance, his now in check familiarity with profane expressions on the cricket field and how he is not the greatest of team captains even if he may be the greatest of batsmen. But all these smooth and rough bits fit into the broad visual image of Kohli you piece together over time. He is a man of our times, is on Twitter, Instagram and Nat Geo for god’s sake.

What I was really looking for, I guess, was to settle the compass around Kohli. To figure out perhaps if he actually wielded the personal influence his visuals suggested. More than that, did he have the tough combination of sturdiness and vulnerability to outlast fame (and notoriety if it came his way). Also, the Tissot watch launch was outside Kohli’s immediate, micro environment in cricket and I wondered on what scale would he belong here.

So he arrived grinning, at Mumbai’s Taj Landsend hotel for the Tissot event. The famously chiseled, ripped, tattooed body, a Wrogn T-shirt (not stylish but a snug fit), and cropped, fitted denims.

A Chrono XL Classic 3018 Limited edition collection, the new Tissot watch is personalised for Kohli alright. With a dark blue strap (the Indian team colour) it has Kohli’s logo in a silk printed case back; on the stopwatch inside the blue dial, the number 20 has been turned to 18 in red to ring in Kohli’s number in the cricket team. Red stands for the colour of the Swiss flag. The 3018 pieces stand for this year in which Kohli will be 30 years old. The first such personalised watch by the Swiss luxury watchmaker brand, it is priced at Rs 24,000. (Only? I asked. “Only,” they said).


Photo: Bodice Studio\Instagram

Virat Kohli credits wife Anushka Sharma for his style transition.

Kohli was clearly kicked about the personalisation and responded to questions on the watch with gusto. The happy glint in his eyes became a twinkling star when he spoke of his wife Anushka Sharma. Journalists had been requested not to ask anything personal or about cricket but Kohli himself brought up his actor wife when someone asked him whose wardrobe he would raid, if given a chance. “Anushka’s,” he said, adding that she was very stylish. He also went on to talk about his own style, its transition from “bling” to classic and understated, crediting even that to his famous wife. He reiterated that he didn’t remember the number of shoes he owned and that he didn’t lust for expensive products but those that intrigued or delighted him. Everything said articulately, effectively and with warm smiles.

So where was the Kohli around whom I was trying to settle the compass? Was he a man who could outlast his fame and game. Frankly, I found sparks of the Future Virat Kohli peep out rather impatiently from this well-groomed, well-spoken young man. When I asked him how he felt about being positioned ahead of The Dalai Lama on the poster of Nat Geo’s Mega Icons series, he said he was embarrassed and that he and his team had tried to appeal to Nat Geo to not place him in the centre and ahead of not only The Dalai Lama but former President Abdul Kalam Azad, actor Kamal Hassan and super cop Kiran Bedi. “Who am I among these?” he said. It was clearly not a marketing statement.

My next question was about the brands he endorses—more than 20 odd—from Vicks, Volini, Colgate, Boost to Audi India, Hero Spark and Uber. From Manyawar to Tissot. Was he consciously strategising to appeal to different segments of consumers? He smiled, turned to his managers to credit them for the strategy and said yes, “the whole point is to be able to connect to different classes and types of people through these brands,”

These may be sneak peeks, but behind Kohli’s apparent swagger palpitates a serious commitment to his selfhood. Rolled into his charm is quick insight. Behind his obvious ‘young man with a new personalised toy’, is a man toying with What Next questions. Will Kohli the person outlive the batting great? You bet.