With the emergence of Indian Premier League and other super leagues and celebrities engagement, sports in India is now firmly in the grip of the ‘celebrity culture’ that is dominating our urban planet. There was a time, when people watched sports because they loved the game, they had their favourites in each and every team whom they loved and admired. But today these sports have new mascots, ones who own the team and players.
While the IPL paved way for an amazing fusion of sports and entertainment, with their catchphrase ‘Cricket weds Entertainment’, Bollywood slowly found their connection with sports. With heavyweight names of entertainment industry owning sports teams, be it Cricket, Football or even Kabaddi, Bollywood has emerged as a big patron of India’s sporting dreams.
‘Leagues wed Entertainment’
Games have just got bigger, and dare we say a wee bit more brazen. Be it Janet Jackson’s ‘tit’illating performance at the Super Bowl, sexy numbers worn poster girls Maria Sharapova and Anna Ivanovic, sizzling dances, stilt walkers and cheerleaders at the IPL, or the high profile fashion shows of the recently concluded Chennai Open, glamour has proved to be one of the key elements to draw crowds to stadiums.
Cheerleaders, film stars, fireworks, event managers, and yes, players in coloured clothing hitting the game: the purists may be alarmed, but the fact is that
‘sports+entertainment’ is finally a recognised industry. And it is raking rich moolah.
Even the manner of watching these games have changed. So, if Kolkata Knight Riders has the strength of Sourav Ganguly and larger-than-life presence of Shah Rukh Khan and associates, Mohali has Preity Zinta to lift the spirits, Bangalore has Vijay Mallya and Katrina Kaif to raise the glamour quotient, Mumbai has Hrithik Roshan to add a little bit of spice, while Delhi has Akshay’s machismo to draw in the crowds.
Can Mandira Bedi be far behind? Ever since the actress cohosted Extra Innings with Charu Sharma, she has become a name associated with cricket. While
many argued that she diluted the seriousness of the game, nobody could deny that the actress, in her gorgeous saris and noodle-strapped blouses, made
the show look beautiful! Finding inspiration and following suit was Chennai girl Lekha Washington, who presented the IPL.
Nevertheless, cricket was always the form of mass entertainment and players were brands but they couldn’t quite encash their brand value. Though Kapil Dev did appear on TV in eighties with his famous tagline“Palmolive Da Jawab Nahin,” and Ravi Shastri and Alan Border appeared flaunting Vimal suiting, they were kind of babes in the wood, when compared with the mega brands that Sachin, Dhoni and now Virat Kohli have become.
This mini-revolution which has come in the form of leagues, has changed the face of these games. The way these leagues have been embraced by fans, sponsors and the players, is proof that there was a yearning for change in the rules of the game. In particular, the infrastructure at most of the grounds has significantly improved with the advent of the new league, offering endless opportunity and globalisation of sports with comfortable seating, much-needed floodlights, sparkling outfields, large scoreboards. Going to the games today have actually turned outto be a pleasurable experience as sponsors’ money is being ploughed back into improving the facilities across stadium.
However, the much needed thing today is not to dilute the seriousness of the sports. Sports carry certain enduring traditions and are ultimately about a deep emotional connect between players and fans and not about transient pleasures derived from being part of a three hour extravaganza. Today, it has been seen that focus of camera is more on the glamorous cheerleaders, dancers and tinsel town celebrities instead of players. The highlights of the matches show more celebrities celebration then he sixes, goals and hits. Even sometimes it felt as players are not playing for the game but they are showing their acting talent to a role in a big shot director’s movie. In this environment, a pertinent question that begs to be answered is whether sports is getting subsumed by entertainment and what is the future of the actual game in the overall scheme of things.
It’s a time and a very hard time to draw a Lakshman rekha, between the ‘real thing’ sports and ‘money making’ sports. Bollywood has always had a predominant influence over the contemporary popular culture, virtually trampling over all else. The sports fraternity needs to take a call on how is it going to be entertaining to audience and fans and become their icons. Do sports stars carry enough charisma and respect earned on field to stay relevant or they need a glam crutch to be remembered by fans? Would it not be a shame for our new czars of the sports to need Shilpa Shettys, Shahrukh Khans and Preity Zintas of the world to enter their dressing rooms and hitch them to stardom?