During the 1990s, the Indian media would often speak of a thickening “nexus” between crime and politics, and Bollywood, and business, and so on. It was a maddeningly conspiratorial term, ominous sounding and yet vaguely scientific, but it also perfectly describes the symbiotic relationship that Bollywood and the IPL have developed of late.
Anyone following Shah Rukh Khan’s career of late will know what shrewd marketing ploys the man has employed to buttress his own popularity, showing up early and often to any location featuring the Indian team (and, some said, earning the BCCI’s ire). With the IPL, however, the connection has become more explicit and mature: actors and actresses use cricket to heighten their popularity, while cricket franchises use celebrities’ brand names to inspire loyalty among fans who, ordinarily wouldn’t care one way or the other about Kolkata or Chennai’s scorecards.
It’s a win-win for the involved stars, but it’s still opportunistic and shady, not to mention a distraction from the real match at hand. The question of “branding” cricket obscures the actual cricket as cricketers — at least the Indians — become stars first, and players second. On endorsements everywhere, Indian cricketers spill into the Indian consciousness again and again, and I worry that the link between the sport and its audience will become mediated by something other than simply viewing a player’s bat hit another player’s ball. To some extent, that’s been this blog’s thesis all along (that cricket is more than cricket), but we’re talking about more than culture and history here. We’re talking manipulation. We used to use cricket as a focal point for our cultural neuroses, but now, the process has reversed itself, with cricket deciding what’s important to us. In other words, our cricketers have become media phenomenons, rather than sportsmen.
There are two residual dangers involved: Continue reading