The great binders

AMITABH BACHCHAN WITH M. S. DHONI. "Indian cricket and Indian films contribute towards creating one India", says the author.-PTI

Neither cricket nor films is short on masala, excitement, thrills and spills, and both, intrinsically, are utterly unpredictable.

During a cocktail conversation, when cricket was being strenuously run down by a group for causing national waste (by distracting work force, and the loss of man hours) one spirited gentleman rose to its defence. Do you realise, he thundered in an aggressive tone, that people willingly fly the Indian flag in a stadium when India is playing. Forget wasting time and imaginary losses. Cricket enhances national pride and brings people together.

This led to a discussion on the need for uniting people, specially in times of strife. While the usual line is to view national integration in lofty terms and textbook concepts it is often overlooked that, more than other things, Indian cricket and Indian films contribute towards creating one India. Both are adhesives that bind the country together, both touch its length and breadth, they excite and involve all Indians, make them share joy and disappointment as nothing else, blurring all religious and regional boundaries. Keen observers will not fail to notice that films and cricket run in our blood, and connect people from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

Curiously, at one level they are totally dissimilar. Films depend on drama and make belief, they spin out unlikely dreams to engage fans. They entertain and amuse, and in the process enjoy a licence to stretch reality, bend it in any manner convenient to tell a story.

Cricket, by its nature, is rooted in reality. What happens during play, contrary to what is projected on the silver screen, is asli. There is no make belief, only harsh truth. While SRK (Shahrukh Khan) thrashes a group of hooligans we cheer his heroic act but know this is impossible, one man can't take on an army. But when Sachin battles the opposition there are no such misgivings, what you see, whether achievement or failure, is how things are. Nothing fake, nothing fabricated by the wild imagination of a screenplay writer.

Despite these fundamental differences, films and cricket share a lot, apart from their pan Indian appeal and recently their importance has multiplied. Not long ago Sehwag and Shilpa appeared on the inside pages of newspapers. Now Pathan /Priyanka, Kaif/Kareena share space on page one, and hit the headlines on TV networks in the evening. Compared to news about disasters (natural, or political in nature) the media would much rather serve news about celebrities from these two industries.

Neither cricket nor films is short on masala, excitement, thrills and spills, and both, intrinsically, are utterly unpredictable. Cricket defeats anyone who attempts predicting its course, the Bombay film industry learnt a lesson long back that nobody can crack the box office. There is no formula that guarantees success, indeed if this existed ambitious projects would not bite the dust on Friday.

But the flip side of this dodgy existence is that the rewards are generous: the journey from basement to the penthouse (and the reverse) can be accomplished in a moment. Such is their power and reach that Dhoni can zip from relative obscurity in Ranchi to become a national youth icon. Same holds for films: one major hit and the hero is fast tracked to fame and enormous riches.

The financial numbers in both are mind-numbing. Top players (Sachin/Rahul, Aamir/SRK) earn top rupees and big films, like commercially hot one-dayers, pull in vast amounts. Indian cricket is smashing all box office records, its rights are not cheap, the zeroes increase with every deal. Earlier, only TV and title rights were on offer but with more commercial opportunities available in a growing market, lot else is on sale. Companies are fighting to be able to clothe the players, the Indian team perfume is about to be launched. Next to hit the market: space for tattoos on Yuvraj's arm? Films are creatively marketed and with marketing wizards stepping in, the packaging is as important as the product itself.

Films and cricket are currently on a massive upswing, in the latest phase of economic upsurge both have broken new ground, breached new frontiers. Indian films are crossing over, Krrish has defeated his foreign competitor in many territories, Fanaa is fantastic in the overseas circuit. AB, its iconic ambassador, stops traffic and sells tickets in Delhi, Dubai and Durban, his posters are plastered on walls in Peshawar and Paris. Manchester gave him a doctorate, he is a state guest in Afghanistan, greeted by Blair, honoured by Thailand and Singapore, feted like royalty in Morocco. SRK is another powerful economic trigger whose releases have a global reach. He is the ultimate entertainer who makes serious money.

Indian cricket too is reaching out , exporting itself to fresh markets, ranging from Australia to Abu Dhabi, touching Canada, Malaysia, Singapore. The boundaries have stretched, the field enlarged, because of the momentum created by the media and the expanding reach of TV that delivers viewers. With economic integration and financial linkages, the demand — and price — of Indian cricket keeps surging.

No wonder off-shore cricket, discredited and suspect after its first experience in Dubai, is poised to make a spectacular return. The rights for overseas Indian matches have fetched phenomenal amounts, and plans to squeeze matches in new territories in what is already a tight schedule are in an advanced stage.

Exploiting available business opportunities makes sound economic sense but one hopes the quest for extra financial zeroes is done only after a stringent virus check on the system.