July 25, 2020
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Adonis XI, All Out

Uptight ’n canny, today’s brand delivery boys are no sex gods

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Adonis XI, All Out
Adonis XI, All Out

“Indian actresses are chickens. They just want to get laid.” Did the former Pakistani sex god Imran Khan say this in an interview several decades ago? We don’t know, though several reports cite him saying he was misquoted. But what does a girl today say to captain cool, India’s skipper M.S. (Mahi) Dhoni, when he airily says, “Whenever I would go biking and stop at red-light areas, they came to me.” He meant star-struck people at the red light traffic signal!

Imran’s cover-up and Mahi’s goof-up is perhaps a daffy story of the beginning and end of cricketers and copulation in this country, but let’s face it, boys in white are no longer snazzy. They may top the charts in the popularity sweepstakes, earn hundreds of crores of rupees, have maximum exposure and media coverage, heroic status and global recognition, but sorry boys, you’ve lost your pizzazz. In the crowded celebrity circus, you are just as famous as the next celeb, just grotesquely richer, glitzier and flashier. For exclusivity and swank, you don’t invite cricketers anymore.

If the fabled Hostess of Bombay is still tottering on her Manolo Blahniks, forever bandaged in her fave Herve Legers, guess who her pet guest is still today—the ageing Imran Khan. If this says a lot about the miraculous staying power of the jhappi-pappis, it also says a lot about the crumbling social quotient of the debutant star arrivals. For,if a new cricketer’s first foray into the social scene is heavy with symbolism, a hint of how the blokes will engage with the glitterati, then the Hostess’s magical doors have been slammed shut on them. Mahi, Yuvi and Bhajji are never on her guest list.

The ’70s and ’80s, sigh drawing room fixtures, were hedonistic cricket years in the country’s only party hotspot—Bombay. The cricketing sex gods of the time were the Pakistanis—Imran, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal—and the desis—Sunny Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Kapil Dev, with a few smattering sidekicks like Sandeep Patil or Javed Miandad. The scene, say insiders, was divided into two—the chic parties of the Hostess at her suburban beach house, and the opulent soirees of the Sharjah Sheikh, who had just bought a bungalow in the city and had lots of new money to generously splash around.

No one who was there then can forget the testosterone-charged drawing room of the beach house, of super tycoons and their wives, divas, supermodels, husbands and lovers, artfully mixed dinners that were designed to create great conversation as well as great gossip. But it was the collision of cricket with Bollywood stars that made it all so electric. Bollywood bombshells like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, and libidinous cricketers in their regimented ’70s-style flared trousers, unbuttoned shirts, all louche and laid-back, simply spelled bold, uninhibited FUN. An Imran courted Zeenat, a Ravi blew kisses to his lady love Amrita Singh on DD. Cricket stars and Bollywood heroines were the sex symbols of the two horny decades. They were the A-list of the city.

Yuvraj and a Bollywood starlet get comfortable at an IPL party. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook, February 21, 2011)

Blame it on the ’90s for the arrival of the cricket tot, and the brandasaurs, and the end of panache. What do you say of a decade where cricket’s new god was a pubescent 16-year-old when he arrived on the scene, and 20 years later, he still has to break his voice? And suddenly, team managers were overrun by television deal-makers, marketing honchos, brand value, advertisements, endorsements. In the new Logo Nation, there are no cricketers, only a cult of brands. Cricketers sold themselves for vast sums of money, the market creamed off mega profits from products using their name. Everything they did was aimed at making sales and profits for their brand.

Of course, the ’90s was just the beginning and the decade also had its share of crimes of passion—Mohammed Azharuddin dumped his wife and ran off with Bollywood starlet Sangeeta Bijlani, Vinod Kambli threw away his brilliant career for a doomed film career and marriage. Tabloids were agog with the virility of an Ajay Jadeja, but it was all about the money, not the honey, and many of them fell by the wayside on shameful match-fixing charges.

So, what do we have in this decade? A bunch of top-dog cricketers who are indeed young, vibrant and masculine, but it is all reserved off the field for selling colas and life insurance, chowmein and motorcycles. Celebrity fornication, machismo and misbehaviour are the kiss of death for cricketers. A whiff of sex and scandal, cheating on wives or public drunken brawls can vaporise a fortune within nanoseconds. Discretion is the name of the game—have fun, on the run. On top of the brand pile is none other than Sachin Tendulkar, who whirs an over Rs 500-crore consumer machine on his cautiously constructed squeaky-clean, family man, Mr Detergent image. Marketing excess leads to sexual canniness!

Virat Kohli, Sid Mallya at a fashion show in Mohali 2010. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook, February 21, 2011)

If the big boys of Gen-Ex were all about prestige, mystique and an aura of elusive untouchability, today’s boys are all about conservatism, soberness and restraint. As society loosens up and swings easy, cricketers are forced to be orthodox, prudish and controlled. Dhoni may have a romp in Bollywood, but will settle for a coy bride. The bad boys of Indian cricket today, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan, are told by their mummies or image managers to sober up, sponsor a children’s foundation or get married.

Party of today’s decade? Turn on the market-dictated libido, hire a fashion designer, stage a fashion show (pouting models and the guest list come for free), rent sexy hostesses and bar girls to serve drinks, get booze and cigarette sponsors who hire the restaurant or nightclub for free, throw in starlets and studs, unleash a PR agency, sell tickets to a gawking public, and cricketers are herded in attendance. The atmosphere is turbo-charged, and pulsating bliss. But where’s the glam quotient? In the prive room upstairs. The big boys in the cricketing world are the fat cats who own the cricketers.

Vrinda Gopinath is a freelance journalist

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