And that’s why the Celebrity Cricket League 2012 has been a success, feels Cineswami
India’s twin passions are cinema and cricket and not necessarily in that order. Therefore it might have seemed like a simple task to blend the two. The resulting films, with the notable exception of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Oscar-nominated Lagaan, starring the peerless Aamir Khan, and Venkat Prabhu’s joyous paean to galli cricket, Chennai 600028, have been colossal disappointments. Aamir himself tasted failure under the stewardship of the late, great Dev Anand in Awwal Number and there have been several other duds like Kabhi Ajnabi The, Meerabai Not Out, Hattrick and so on.
All these happened when cricket was included in cinema. When the reverse occurred, that is when cinema came to cricket, the results were more positive. The Celebrity Cricket League comprising teams of film people from the Bollywood, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali film industries kicked off last year. Unlike their cinema, and like their IPL counterparts, the celebrity teams proved bereft of imagination when it came to naming their teams, thus saddling us with Karnataka Bulldozers, Kerala Strikers, Telugu Warriors, Chennai Rhinos, Mumbai Heroes and Bengal Tigers.
Though the 2011 season was sedate, the 2012 tournament really roared to life. It helped that the Indian cricket team proved hopeless overseas, getting pulverised in first England and then Australia. Indian cricket fans are used to seeing winning ways on the field and the sad performance by the senior team left them surplus to Indian audience requirements and also created a massive gap in entertainment requirements. And lo, a CCL shaped star was born. Cineswami deigned to attend some double headers in Bangalore, Chennai and Madras and, to use an original quote from the redoubtable Ravi Shastri, “the atmosphere was electric”. Devoid of the need to emotionally connect with the sides, as they were not the senior team, the crowds lapped up the stars and the entertainment on display. All the ingredients were present and accounted for, competitive cricket (for, our filmi boys are dead serious on the field), cheerleaders, team songs, hyperbolic commentary and cheerleaders.
As the tournament wore on, the matches became increasingly partisan thanks to the crowds’ need to connect with someone, anyone. It helped that all the teams, bar one, had genuine stars in their ranks. Therefore you had the likes of Venkatesh, Jeet, Indraneil, Vishaal, Sudeep, Mohanlal and Arya rubbing shoulders and balls on the field. Except, of course, the Mumbai Heroes that comprised either has-beens or out of work people like Suniel Shetty, Aftab Shivdasani, Shabbir Boxwala (who?), Sohail Khan and Apurva Lakhia (who?), thanks to the absence of Salman Khan. The grand finale between Karnataka and Chennai ended in farce with the boys from Madras sneaking a win thanks to a hotly debated run out. Captain Sudeep duly whinged after the match accusing the Chennai stars of un-parliamentary (or given the goings on in the Karnataka assembly, parliamentary) behaviour. Perhaps he should have just given his teammate, ‘Challenging star’ Darshan, the freedom to express himself as he did infamously with his wife not so long ago.