IPL: Cricket-sangeet is a much simpler option (Commentary)

May 4th, 2008 - 11:50 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Russell Crowe
By Chitra Padmanabhan
Word is that event managers of weddings across the country have been looking glum since the tinsel start to the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket series. They fear that the BCCI might take over their space, so attuned is it to the crackle of money in potential revenue models. It might start organising pre-wedding ceremonies like cricket-sangeet contests in three overs, between the girl and boy’s side. Their theme: taking cricket to the family. Naturally. Imagine a banquet green decorated as a television screen; cricketers in sherwanis battling for ‘auspicious’ scores like 51 or 101; Shah Rukh Khan and Co. in boxers and T-shirts with plunging necklines (no pigeon chests allowed) dancing to the tune of item numbers and a few millions; the umpire dressed as a pandit, of course.

The sangeet’s highlight would be a morality play. One cricketer slaps another to symbolise marital discord only to have the bride and groom pledge before a red cherry never to go that way. Enacted to the score of “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…”

What a spectacle!

The IPL series is no less a Bollywood spectacle, billed as ‘manoranjan ka baap’ or father of all entertainment (we like our mothers only on pedestals). That the series is aired on a movie channel and not on a sports channel is a helpful hint on how to approach this jamboree.

And as befits a nation with eight percent annual economic growth and a rising presence in the Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, the hallmark of this series is several zeroes in excess, choreographed to the last decimal point.

The IPL slogan seems to be sensory gluttony, monetised to the last pixel. The smear of pumped-up excitement in floodlit stadia follows the principle of split screen television with a sensation a minute.

The glamour of film stars here, the titillation of bouncy cheer girls there, even if over-draped, and the adrenalin of star owners flaunting their team ownerships: it’s like sitting in a pub watching models on a mute, flat screen TV, with music blaring from another source. It’s the stuff of a speeding age with fleeting and fragmented experiences.

Lastly, there are the private armies of cricketers many of whose names we don’t know. All we see - excel sheet with their auction prices in hand - is several zeroes scampering across the field. That is not counting the increasing rash of vital spots on their bodies lent out by their owners as ad slots. The umbilical link is clear between these ‘body shops’ and field hoardings, which snake invisibly across to television screens. The screen shrinks frequently for ad zones, left, right and centre.

The way the media has frenziedly toted costs of every IPL star wave, brand ambassadorial smile and cricketers’ boundaries has made us understand - inadvertently - the extent to which the mesh of cricket green and TV screen has become one of the most potent marketplaces in India today.

So, the real IPL players, apart from BCCI, are the corporate owners of the teams. Middle class India sees them as success stories in fast growing sectors, vying for national and global presence - from energy and infrastructure to entertainment and media.

Middle class India has also noted the panache with which the team owners have mastered the hip global language of smart branding. A reigning film star owns a team a la Russell Crowe; a liquor baron vies to be a Richard Branson; an infrastructure group builds an airport in Turkey; and an energy giant leads the charge of India’s billionaire brigade.

The IPL seems more like a rite of passage for these new centurions - in which the machismo of jingoism usually accompanying cricket played between nations has been replaced by the testosterone of money.

Whether audiences buy into IPL’s idea of non-organic, city affiliations, is not clear. But the idea of representing ‘city-states’ would be attractive to team owners as a brand building exercise. Interestingly, the IPL cities represent a new map, which promises an economic ‘miracle’ - from West Bengal’s emergence from a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber to other metros and prosperous regional hubs like Chandigarh and Jaipur.

A better IPL slogan would be, ‘They also play cricket’.

Is corporate India ready to displace the livery of the state when it comes to cricket in whatever form? The answer probably is no and for the same reason.

The IPL’s attraction lies in seductive lubrication by mega bucks. But the middle class Indian who has just begun to brandish brand India before a world that sees a ’sleeping giant’ awake is heady with the sensation of aggressively backing India against rivals, old and new.

Does anyone realise the effort needed to play in an internationalist IPL brigade? Maybe the strain of having to remember so many foreign names in his team led Mumbai Indians’ stand-in captain Harbhajan Singh to slap S. Sreesanth. Last heard, all eight teams have signed up for a crash course in memory building.

Perhaps the Board of Control for Cricket in India should reconsider. Cricket-sangeet is a much simpler option.

(Chitra Padmanabhan is a Delhi-based journalist. The views expressed are her own. She can be reached at chitrapadmanabhan@yahoo.co.in)

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