The IPL, as we all know, is characterized by good taste and subtlety. The opening ceremony of this year’s IPL stayed true to that spirit of understatement, with an aesthetically choreographed show that brought out the essence of what the tournament is all about.
Being held in Kolkata, the birthplace of the Indian Renaissance and the home of Kobiguru, it was but natural (and poetic) that the ceremony should begin with one of his works being recited, in English, by Shahrukh Khan, as Bengali as Ilish maach and nolengurer sandesh.
I might have been carried away but I could not help feeling that somehow, somewhere, we were celebrating the cosmic connection between these two brand ambassadors of Bengal, one who brought the Nobel Prize to Bengal and one who brought the IPL cup. What made it even more poignant were the words “Where The Mind is Without Fear”, capturing brilliantly the state of Kolkata and Bengal today, where those who forward cartoons are celebrated by being thrown into jail, and where those who dissent are tenderly called Maoists.
And as East-European “Bideshinis” , clad in traditional Bengali skimpy-wear and fake smiles, cavort to Shahrukh Khan’s emotion-drenched voice, one cannot but feel how happy Rabindranath Tagore would be, up in heaven, looking down at the spontaneity and honesty of the performance below.
Of course Tagore is no more. But Ravi Shastri is evermore. A poet among commentators, he is tracer-bullet-like as he sets the cat among the pigeons, calling the captains out to sign the Spirit of Cricket Declaration, a charter of “good behavior rules” that are held in as much esteem and regard as traffic lights on India’s roads. And there they are…the captains as they walk over to the giant touch-screen—Jayawardene (banned in Chennai), Sangakkara (banned in Chennai), Angelo Matthews (banned in Chennai). Oh look there is Ricky Ponting signing the declaration, binding himself to the spirit of fair play, as he has done all through out his career. Did Virat Kohli sign his name? If he did, why does his finger-path look like a giant “Behenchod, teri maa ki” from where I am sitting? Never mind.
Because Deepika Padukone is here, with this former brand ambassador of Royal Challengers, capturing through her energetic moves, the happiness of Kingfisher employees who were recently paid for the month of June and July. In April.
Which is however but an opening act for Katrina Kaif, the “Kat” inside Kol”Kat”a, known for being to item dancing what Vadhra is to real-estate investing. With the predictability of Gambhir edging to slip or chopping the ball onto his stumps, she executes her “Sheila ki Jawani” and “Chikni Chameli” steps, with the spontaneity of a customer service representative reading from the “Hello sir, how are you doing today?” script.
But wait. Why is the theme from Don playing? Who could it be? Surely not Priyanka Chopra? No.
It’s the Ambassador. No not the white battle-tank that is the vehicle of choice for safari-suited bureaucrats.
But the Brand Ambassador. King Khan. Shahrukh Khan (Banned at Wankede)
The audience is exhilarated by his energy,as he zips from one corner of the stage to another. So frenetic is everything that at least two of the backup dancers seem like they may have a heart attack any second. And yet, they keep on dancing.
Because as the saying goes— You dance Jab Tak Hain Jaan. Jab Tak Hain Khan.
And then he introduces two of the greatest musical talents the country has ever produced.
Bappi Lahiri and Usha Uthup.
Today’s kids won’t get this. Nor will most non-Kolkatans. But seeing this dynamic duo at Salt Lake Stadium, brought back memories, memories of times gone by. Of Hope 86, the first time Bollywood truly came to Kolkata at Salt Lake Stadium, (organized if I remember right to raise money for striking cine artistes in Mumbai) with Sridevi and Jeetendra and Usha Uthup and Bappi Lahiri and Prabhuji giving us a slice of forbidden fruit. It was the day, many old-timers say, when Bollywood breached the gates of Bengali culture castle. I remembered those tumultuous times, of Left Front strong-man Jatin Chakraborty flying into a tizzy, calling the state-supported (CPM was ruling then) jamboree as “apasanskriti” (Bad Culture) which is possibly the most hurtful thing you can say to a Bengali, and then Usha Uthup in protest singing “Ami shilpi, ami shilpi, ami chai shilpir somman” (I am an artist, am an artist and I want to be respected as one), to which Jatin Chakraborty responded by painting the head of the Ochterloney Monument (called Shaheed Minar) red.
Ah those days.
Maybe it was just my misty eyes but I think I saw Sukhen Das, the tragedy king of Bengali cinema who always danced before he died (so that people do not understand what pain he is in), prance across stage clad in his iconic jean jacket, stopping for a second to shed a tear before donating his kidney to the Sunrisers with his patented “Bhai, amar theke eta tomar dorkar beshi” (Brother, I think you need this more than I do).
Sukhen-da. Wish you were here.
I guess after the nostalgia unleashed by Bappi-Usha, I am expecting a representative of contemporary Bengali culture—a modern hero like the dashing Jeet or even better the pushing Deb, whose song “Lal juto paaye khokababu jaaye” (“Wearing red shoes, Mr. Boy moves”) from the movie “Khokababu” was reportedly Pope Benedict’s favorite song ( he being also a Khokababu who wore red shoes).
But that does not happen.
Pitbull comes onto stage.
Evidently, the organizers had wanted Jeniffer Lopez. It kind of made sense because if she is facing right she looks, from the side, kind of like the map of West Bengal. But what the organizers had not realized was that while “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”, JLo does.
So they got Pitbull.
I don’t know but I am guessing what probably happened was that someone saw this picture, and decided “Well if not the one on the left, why not the one on the right?”
This is not to imply that Pitbull and his Bald Headed League of Bob Christo Fans are not awesome. They are. They totally blend in like a Rabindrasangeet group from Santiniketan performing on the beaches of Cancun during Spring Break.
And Pitbull gives it his all, like Ricky Ponting did for Kolkata in the first IPL. I would say that with his strategic “Come on”s and “Yeaaah”s and his “Negative to Positive” , Pitbull provides as much value for his Put-Bill amount of $600,000 as the marginally more expensive ($650,000) Mashrafe Mortaza did for Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2009 series with his 21-runs-giving last over to Rohit Sharma. As a matter of fact, the only way we could truly thank Pitbull for this performance would be to make him sit through a 5-hour presentation of “Invest in Bengal” and then, after that, make him memorize the full “Tum to thehre Pardesi” song before he is allowed to leave.
Now it’s done. Pitbull has left the building. Thanks are being said. The lights are being dimmed. Salt Lake Stadium slips steadily back into silence.
But the fun…the fun.
That’s just started.