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Is poker gambling?! Poker operators, players, and other stakeholders have made commendable efforts to shed the gambling tag surrounding poker. Adding another step to the movement is Poker Sports League’s (PSL) latest brainchild, the Pocket52-powered reality docu-reality series, Poker Mantra, that went live on the Viacom18`s OTT platform, VOOT, on Friday, July 16.
The first-ever poker-centric documentary series to be launched for an Indian audience, Poker Mantra has been the talk of poker town ever since word of a poker show started doing the rounds at the start of PSL -Virtual (Season 3). Poker Mantra has been produced by Mind Sports League, under the stewardship of the company`s co-founder and CMO, Sidharth Mishra, and is written and directed by Sreetama Ray.
The five-part series explores the story of poker in India, a narrative it pieces together with interviews of a range of components of the poker industry, including poker coaches, league teams, sponsors, and players.
With the COVID-restrictions, including travel and health risks looming large, it wasn’t easy for Mishra and his Supervising Producer Karan Vig to get the behind-the-scene work executed on the ground. But the team pulled it off with aplomb! With delays thrown in due to the pandemic, the project was finally completed last month and is already available on the VOOT app.
Poker Sports League (PSL) also shared a few short videos from Poker Mantra.
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To watch Poker Mantra, register on VOOT.
Behind the Scenes – Bringing Poker Mantra Together
We spoke to co-founder and CMO of Minds Sports League, Sidharth Mishra, on all the work that went into making Poker Mantra. He informed us that the idea of the series struck root first when talks of launching PSL-Season 3 in a live setting were ongoing.
“The discussion of bringing a series started pre-PSL Season 3 that was initially meant to be launched live. Midway through the preparations, we realized we were interested in looking at the players in a personal way, the challenges that they have faced in their poker journey. We wanted to find the human connection, and that’s when Pranav (Pranav Bagai) and I started working on the theme,” shared Mishra.
PSL-Season 3 had to be moved online because of the pandemic. The team began working on Poker Mantra once it was done with production work for the league. “The groundwork started with PSL Season 2. Season 3 is when we actually started the shooting for Season 3. We have used a lot of footage from Season 2, Season 1 as well,” Mishra added.
Some key members of Mishra’s team were instrumental in the making of Poker Mantra like the Head of Productions for Hashtag Productions, Karan Vig, Director Sritama Ray Vig, Streaming Head Chetan Bhawsar, Chief Editor, Dhaval Gohil, Audio Engineer, Ved Prakash, and Music Producer Ryan.
If you have watched the series, you would realize that many graphics experts had to be brought in for the project.
Planning the show was one thing, but pulling it off amidst the significant logistical and mobility-related challenges during the lockdown was a major roadblock. Goa, the headquarters of Mind Sports League & Hashtag Productions, was under lockdown during the show`s production. Hence, to complete the project, the team moved into a villa in Goa, where specialized equipment had to be installed to get things running.
The production team traveled far and wide to reach poker players across the country to capture their stories and individual struggles on celluloid. Mishra divulged that travel was quite restricted, and mobility was hampered. Moreover, many players were hesitant in letting the camera crew come into their homes and interview them.
“Some even refused to be interviewed live, and we had to shoot them virtually. If you see, that’s a big issue since human connect is difficult to achieve virtually. We maintained all the COVID protocols during the entire project, and the team had to get their tests done regularly. We had to shut down editing for two weeks since two of our editors came down with COVID. In fact, 70% of my team actually contracted COVID,” informed Mishra.
Poker Mantra – What to Expect?
According to an official press release by VOOT, the reality series will educate viewers on the game`s nuances. At the same time, it will highlight important life lessons that can be learned through poker, like money management.
Elaborating on the same, the co-founder and CMO of Minds Sports League, Sidharth Mishra, elaborated, “With an aim to break barriers and common misconceptions surrounding poker, the series aims at throwing light on the past, present & future of poker in India.”
The show features up-close and candid interviews with several established poker professionals like Kanishka Samant, Kunal Patni, Romit Advani, Abhinav Iyer, Abhishek Goindi, Niharika Bindra and, Muskan Sethi, to name a few.
Speaking on the launch of Poker Mantra, Chanpreet Arora, Head- AVOD (VOOT), Viacom18 Digital Ventures, added: “At VOOT, we have always worked towards providing content that is differentiated and engaging to connect with our users. The unique concept of Poker Mantra will educate enthusiasts about the nuances of the game and create visibility for the sport. Our association with Poker Sports League is also an opportunity to bring new users to the platform. We are looking forward to offering more such unique and innovative content for our viewers at Voot.”
The likes of Young Gun Kanchan Sharma, Rajat Sharma, Aniket Pradhan, Harshit Jaiswal, Nitin Dhamija, Mahima Das Walia, and Radhika Shankar have also shared their insights on the importance of study in poker.
The founder and CEO of Poker Mantra’s title sponsor, Pocket52, Nitesh Salvi, said, “It was indeed a proud moment for us to get associated with Poker Sports League Season 3 as the title sponsor. We are sure that this will be a great learning experience for all. The thrill of real-money gaming, when blended into a classically crafted docu-reality series, is sure to entertain millions of our players across its online poker gaming platform in India.”
For poker players, Poker Mantra offers a fresh at the game and the blood and sweat that players have to put in to make it to the top. For others, the show is a refreshing eye-opener to all that goes into making poker the thoroughly intriguing and challenging sport that it is!