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30 November 2023

'Cricketainment' runs for the money


By Bindu Rai

Rumours are abuzz that Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, George Michael and Snow Patrol have been roped in to up the glamour quotient at today's inaugural ceremony of the Indian Premier League in South Africa.

While we're still not sure if IPL chairman Lalit Modi is to be thanked for this bizarre line-up, it's no surprise that A-list entertainers are being spoken of in the same breath as cricket.

The Rs107.9 billion (Dh8bn) event, which kicks off today in Cape Town, continues to silence critics in its second season as 'cricketainment' reaches fever pitch. Bollywood stars, cheerleaders, multi-million dollar music videos and even a feature film are all heady ingredients that have transformed this gentlemanly game of cricket into a lucrative cash cow with its large spectator turnout.

Once just limited to fans of the sport, IPL's ever-growing glitz and glamour has even witnessed 70-year-old grandmothers hollering with the pom-pom brigade, clad in their favourite team's colours.

"That's the universal appeal of IPL," comes the response from Bollywood actress Preity Zinta, in a chat with Emirates Business. "Even with its mass support, cricket was always a sport for niche audience; these ingredients – as you call it – simply broaden the appeal to a wider fanbase."

Zinta, along with superstar Shah Rukh Khan and actress Juhi Chawla, were pioneering members of the Bollywood brigade that bit into the lion's share at IPL's very first player auction in 2007; many critics accuse them of dolling up cricket, which today stands at the precipice of losing its identity as a noble sport with cash-rich stars such as Celebrity Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty buying their way into the game.

Zinta is part-owner and brand ambassador of Mohali team Kings XI Punjab, purchased for $76 million (Dh279m) and features star player and captain Yuvraj Singh (bought for $1.06m); while Khan, along with fellow actress Juhi Chawla and husband Jai Mehta, co-own the $75m Kolkata Knight Riders, featuring star player and captain Sourav Ganguly (bought for $1.09m).

Had the two stars simply limited their affairs to the business of sports, the marriage of cricket and entertainment would have taken many more years to give birth to cricketainment. In the buzz leading up to the onset of season one in 2008, both Zinta and Khan put their talents to the test by prancing around in music videos to rope in more ad money, revenue and fans.

While Zinta's was a mediocre effort that featured king of Punjabi pop Daler Mehndi, it was Khan's slick craftsmanship that steered composer duo Vishal-Shekhar's 2 Hot 2 Cool to the top of the album charts. The fact that King Khan, as the media calls him, was seen shaking a hip in his team's black and gold colours had female fans lining up at Knight Riders matches to catch a glimpse of their idol.

Clearly inspired by this moneymaking enterprise, Kingfisher Airlines chief and member of Indian parliament Vijay Mallya roped in Bollywood beauty Katrina Kaif as brand ambassador for his Bangalore Royal Challengers team.

But the king of good times wouldn't stop just there; adding that extra bit of oomph were the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad. The result: The crowds went crazy with excitement, while India's moral police simply went crazy.

By now though, the benchmark had been set and every team was expected to wow audiences on and off the pitch. International cheerleading squads were called, and actors such as Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan were dancing to the beats of the Delhi Daredevils and the Mumbai Indians, respectively; heck even IPL's official website had struggling starlet Riya Sen's face plastered on it.

Season two can only offer more in terms of excitement and Shilpa Shetty is proving just that as her new Rs30m music video, Halla Bol, which is meant to dress up her 12 per cent stake in the Rajasthan Royals. While Shetty refuses to confirm the figure, in a recent interview with the Times of India, she said: "I'm not revealing any figures, except the one that you'll see in the music video."

If this implies the stakes are higher, then Khan and Mallaya are also feeling the pressure. The actor has just revamped 2 Hot 2 Cool to fuse in African beats for obvious reasons and launched a reality show, Knights and Angels, to hunt out the top cheerleading squad in India.

Mallaya on the other hand has left the pom-poms for the Varsity cheerleaders from the US, renaming them the White Mischief Gals.

"A little bit naughty, a little more hottie and a lot more mischievous," is how they are described in a Mallya press release. They were named after his White Mischief beverage brand. "Necklines plunging, hemlines rising, they are all set to let the mercury soar..."

The cheerleaders, the release further said, have been "specially trained in flirty acrobatic skills for a scintillating on-field performance, offering fans flirtatious messages."

What's left you ask?

How about a Bollywood film that features the rise of the Rajasthan Royals? Produced by Kaleidoscope Entertainment, the film will also feature players from the Royals team. "We will not invest in the film, but have given it the go-ahead... some of our players will be part of the film," Manoj Badale, chairman and joint owner of Royals said in an interview.

Sports, entertainment or cheap gimmicks? The question is a hotly debated one in cricketing circles, but for actor Akshay Kumar, the crime is posing the question in the first place.

He tells Emirates Business: "Why are you making it sound like it's a crime? Put it this way, the world was watching this gimmick. Yes, it is a noble sport and its nobleness was spread all over the world to be appreciated.

"The man who created IPL [Chairman Lalit Modi] put his life on the line to make this work and we should be patting him on the back, not slating a job well done. Only the cricketers are allowed to have a problem with this form of entertainment, and believe me, they don't."

We guess all that's left to say is: Bring on the cheerleaders!


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