Friday, July 25, 2008

In the league of GLADIATORS

Confessions of an IPL born-again.

April 23, 2008.

by Murali Gopy

One sultry afternoon of 1984. I jumped the gate, threw my school bag on the sofa and hopped in to join the august dine room gathering. With its navy blue covering cloth and flannel, our B & W television set looked like a Nainital tourist guide. The crowd of cousins was into the DD coverage of an India-Pakistan cricket Test played out on the leukodermic greens of Feroz Shah Kotla (or was it Wankhede?).
I was walking backwards to the kitchen to get my share of chips when I heard a roar from the dining room; I rushed back and saw the close-up of a man who was least expected to show up: Amitabh Bachchan. The camera had caught him on the VIP balcony. The shaky shot held on. The players waved at him, and he waved back. After a minute’s silence from the commentary box, Ravi Chaturvedi (I think it was him) sprang up with a great sentence that had the whole room in splits: “Screen par abhi aap dekh rahe hain, bharat ka sabse mashhoor adaakar, Amitabh Bachchan.” He made it sound like an Indian equivalent of “Eureka”! We couldn’t see the Bachchan squint through that ‘Trishul’ sunglasses he was wearing.
That was the first time I saw a movie superstar shake hands with cricket, Live!
By the time cinema met cricket again, in Sharjah, the dine room gathering had become an expert panel of cricket commentators. And the 22-inch Onida color TV was implicative of the economic evolution of our family.
Sharjah had this special launch for Bolly bigwigs—a surreally starry platform where Feroz Khans, Anil Kapoors, Anju Mahendrus, Man-D-akinis and Dimple Kapadias sipped cola, shared a giggle and clapped languorously to the occasional pull shot. Door Darshan had hired Henry Blofeld, this time, for special comments on exotic earrings. Cricket had still not fallen in love with Bollywood. It was infatuation.
Twenty years later, I recline on my easy chair, munching pop corns and in war with my daughter who prefers POGO to my CNN-IBN. I am reminded of that popular geological prognosis: Future wars would be fought over water. They would surely be, once the problem of the remote control is solved!
Smugly, I thump buttons and reach a mushy news channel where, to my disbelief, I see the auction of cricketers. I see bidding. I see the rich and the beautiful make their gangs. I see the mighty holding the hammer. I see money. I see greed. I switch channels, and I see batting pads set on fire. I see Shah Rukh Khan scream “Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo”. I see Hrithik Roshan dancing with the willow. And Puritan Me is thrown into a blue mood. I search for precedents, naturally, in Hollywood annals. I see only inspirations. I spot Jack Nickolson, Leonardo Di Caprio, Denzel Washington and Ice Cube (Laker fans all) enjoying the dunk-in-cheek. I come across Madonna begging for the sweaty Tee of Roberto Baggio. I imagine Elvis shaking hands with Pele. But from where did Bollywood get this idea of buying cricket to be one with it? Finally, I get a hint from the mischievous glint on Preity Zinta’s eye. I decide to brush up my Gibbon.
Fade in. Rome!
Indian Premier League’s ancestor seems to be the Gladiatorial games of Roman yore. Gibbon says Julius Caesar owned “so many gladiators that the Senate, fearing the cold-blooded application of such a private army, passed a law limiting private citizens to owning not more than 640 gladiators”.
Shah Rukh says “I love winning, whether it is IPL matches, or film or a game of carom with my kids, or the entire world. I believe my victory is God’s assurance that I worked hard”. Julius Caesar gives SRK a befitting rejoinder from his Roman bath: “Men freely believe that which they desire”.
IPL’s similarity with gladiatorial games seems not to end at the auction table.
“The Games,” says the historian, “were according to a precise plan. The organiser (read Lalit Modi) on behalf of the emperor (read BCCI) meticulously planned the combinations of animals and gladiator types in such a way as to catch the basic instincts of the viewer. Gladiators were displayed publicly (the promos) to huge crowds a few days before the event. Pamphlets containing gladiatorial details were distributed to one and all (the glossy press releases). Banquets were held before the games and even gladiators with criminal background (doping) were invited”.
This is my chance to participate in a reenactment, albeit weak, of past gore. I decide to take a peek. I choose the Eden Garden tussle for the first look.
I see the arena. I see the kings. I see the powerful. I see the slaves. I see the cheerleaders. I congratulate the boy with the placard: “I am here to watch the girls dancing.” I relish it.
The crowd goes berserk. The floodlights light up the stadium better than even the sun. An envious Nature employs her favourite weapon- fate- to ensure a power failure, but that too does not douse the euphoria. Brendon McCullam tears apart the classic stroke book and launches one rocket after another. Memories of the archaic white-n-white game are sent packing with the wind. SRK sings from the front and India’s first family provides the chorus.
My jaw drops!
My eyes bulge. I am morphed into a Caesarian Roman!
I emerge from the game, a born-again. The puritan in me has been beheaded. My blood lust has been consummated. The jingoistic nerve has been tickled.
I scan the newspapers and come across this Mangalorean travel agent, Oswald Saldanah, who has been declared IPL’s first martyr. He had betted on Vijay Mallya’s gladiators in their fight against Shah Rukh Khan’s. He lost, and ended his life. I feel sad but then, gladiators don’t cry. Nor do their fans!
It is a fine morning. I enjoy the tea and wish to see more of such fare, where boundaries vanish and the thin line that separates innovation from outrageousness gets hopelessly blurred.
I have only one grouse: They could have been more creative with the team names. Royal Challengers, Super Kings, Deccan Chargers, Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals….!
Does not sound like Rome at all.
About the author: Murali Gopy is the Entertainment Editor for MSN India


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