Our Cricketers Our Children!

India's Two Passions: Cricket & Bollywood

It’s been said so often that Lonely Planet should actually have it as the opening lines on its India edition – “Cricket is India’s primary religion”. There, I have said it again. We love it – love watching it, love it live, love the highlights, love the reruns and re-reruns and the talk shows and the columns and the blogs…okay enough said.

There’s the movies too and we love those guys as well. For every Sachin v Rahul debate there’s a SRK v Aamir equivalent. If only the man hours invested by Indians in talking cricket and Bollywood, was diverted instead to tree planting, Al Gore would be making documentaries on the need for increasing lumberjacking in the third world.

Corporations too draw on icons from cricket and Bollywood to promote and market their products in India. And the media would sell precious little ad space, but for the stories these two phenomena generate on a daily basis.  Yet as easy as it is to say cricket and Bollywood in the same breath (a task accelerated in no small measure by the Lalit Modi comical IPL, the magnum opus from BCCI Studios in association with “the pawars that be”), there is much to be said of how cricket and Bollywood are like chalk and cheese.

Lets talk endorsements. Surveys (of suspect methodology but largely correct conclusions) have repeatedly suggested that Bollywood hegemonises the celebrity endorsement scenario in India, with 85% of celebrity endorsement deals featuring movie stars. Cricketers (apart from Sachin and Dhoni) seem to struggle to attract multiple endorsements at astronomical price-points.

If conventional wisdom of demand and supply were to hold true, would not 11 or 20 (if you account for rotation policies) national cricketing icons be a rarer (and hence more coveted) commodity than a limitless pool of actors that grows everyday and potentially never retires?

The reality is that as a people we are far more tolerant of mediocrity in the movies than on the cricket field.  Salman Khan can put debacles like Yuvraaj and Veer behind him with ease, but we will always remember Chetan Sharma for the last ball six he conceded to Javed Miandad and not for his hat-trick in the World Cup the year after.

In my experience this ruthlessness towards sport extends into endorsement agreements as well. While there are never any minimum performance indicators prescribed for film personalities in such agreements (minimum number of releases per year etc), endorsement agreements with cricketers invariably include pro rated deductions in the cricketer’s endorsement fee if the cricketer in question fails to play a minimum number of matches for India during the agreement’s term of operation on account of non-selection or at times even injury.

Movie stars do not represent India and hence our polarized passions towards the Boys in Blue does have context, but shouldn’t we be less unforgiving towards the cricketers (or sportspersons in general).

If a dialogue or stunt or dance move is not to Ranbir Kapoor’s liking on the day, the Director can get it changed, modified re-written or deleted altogether and it would affect nobody.  In a cricketing equivalent, that is like Nayan Mongia telling Allan Donald on Day 1 of the Durban Test– “Buddy can you slow it down, lose the out swing and not get it higher than the waist, its kind of hard to get the cover drive out this morning?” Never happens, never will. And I state the afore-ridiculously-said, only to emphasise how deeply we all seem to know the difference between cricket and Bollywood and how real one is and the other is not. Yet how unforgiving we are to cricketing failure.

Make no mistake, I love Bollywood as much and more as the average Joe or Jagdish, but I cannot fathom why when it comes to failure we cut our cricketers so little slack. No offense but Imran Khan can debut in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (superhit) follow it up with Kidnap (disaster) and Luck (calamity) and yet make it to the Coke commercial and Karan Johar’s next. Well what of Vijay Bharadwaj? T Kumaran? Debashis Mohanty? Or even Irfan Pathan? and thousands of other hopefuls whose careers have abruptly ended or worse never really begun?

Enough dreams die at the altar of movies too and the barriers to entry in Bollywood aren’t as porous as politicians’ morals, but the paradigm is different. Sport is real, not stage-managed (let’s not talk match-fixing here). Sport has injuries, which sometime compromise careers and/or end them. Sport has shelf-lives and retirements. Sport has limited berths – only 11 can play after all. Sport has failure – real failure where it impacts a nation, not just a legion of star fans.

Yet, knowing all of this, the glasses we stone and the effigies we burn belong to our beloved cricketers, for the unpardonable sin of having a bad week at the office. Thankfully we don’t slay movie stars with the same sword – or else just imagine Sholay legend Mr. Bachchan’s trepidation following the release of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag!

Our love for cricket has historically blinded our collective reason. Perhaps given our frustrations with “public servants” per se, our cricketers are the only bunch that makes us feel empowered in the belief that by venting our appreciation and ire interchangeably, we are influencing at least some decision making. They are indeed “public servants” – the mind struggles to find any other example of a class of workers that have to perform all their tasks under such exacting public (and media) scrutiny.

Whether you are a teacher, salesman, corporate executive, doctor or any other professional, imaging having every stroke of your pen/keyboard, every note you ever wrote, every file you worked on, every decision you took, every task you procrastinated, every spelling error you made being scrutinized by your boss, his boss and thereon till the supreme boss and beyond him by over a billion people. Seems like a hard day’s work, every day. And of course, when you get home your work is still being discussed on every channel. You sleep through it and wake up to more criticism on the front page of the papers. That’s the life of an Indian cricketer and we all know this.

It appears that to us fans, Bollywood stars are like the neighbour’s child who seems better than our own (Cricket) at almost everything.  Even if we occasionally disapprove of the neighbor’s child’s behaviour we are largely tolerant and uninvolved. But with our own child, there is never the slightest patience or mercy. Of course, it is only because we love our child so much. So what?

Let’s be cool. Let’s not get worked up if someone gets a drink or does a little dance or shoots a little ad (or thirty little ads).  At that level of competition, with those stakes, there’s no place to hide, its swim or sink and the system invariably takes care of itself.

Sport would be nothing were it not for its ability to polarize public opinion. The popularity of cricket in India is a direct descendant of the volatility of common emotion in our country.

But let’s keep it real. If Suresh Raina and his young team get humbled twice over by Zimbabwe, let’s not dream dragons about the future of Indian cricket. If M Vijay couldn’t follow up his IPL century with more in the World Cup and in Zimbabwe, let’s not drop the curtains on his fledgling career. Let’s believe and invest, in them and in all our other boys.

If Yuvraj Singh is dropped from an upcoming series, let’s not start writing obituaries already. He’s spent ten years at the top of the tree. He may have scored poorly in the Board Exam, but the IIT entrance examination is yet to come and he may still crack it. Maybe he’ll blow that too and maybe he’ll never get it back on track. But until we know that lets show perspective and patience, its our child after all, not the neighbors’’.

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  • Raghavendra Patnaik

    Quite right Rohit…Many cricketers have boiled over and have been carried along because of their past records for longer than they deserved..but that’s what I mean by the “system taking care of itself”..the number of people waiting in the wings creates the swim or sink set up..we’re seeing it happen with Yuvraj now..and with Ganguly before and with Sehwag among all the others..i guess our reaction to cricketers doing badly at work is far less accommodating than to other celebrities..but that’s only because we love cricket so much!

  • Perv

    Poor performances are not only a result of “bad week in the office”. And noone frowns over a drink or a dance, except when the drinks become a beer belly and lead to poor fielding, apart from general poor fitness and lack of work ethic. Then the poor performances become more than statistics.

  • raghavpatnaik

    Quite right Rohit…Thanks for the comment…Many cricketers have boiled over and have been carried along because of their past records for longer than they deserved..but that’s what I mean by the “system taking care of itself”..the number of people waiting in the wings creates the swim or sink set up..we’re seeing it happen with Yuvraj now..and with Ganguly before and with Sehwag among all the others..i guess our reaction to cricketers doing badly at work is far less accommodating than to other celebrities..but that’s only because we love cricket so much!

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    Can we have your take on India's preparedness for the Commonwealth Games?