03 May 2010 Sports ipl: parties

Twelfth Man In The Dark

A first-person sighting of off-duty stars one IPL night, amid the glam ’n kitsch
Twelfth Man In The Dark
Getty Images (From Outlook, May 3)
Twelfth Man In The Dark

All of us are lying in the gutter...the difference is some of us are looking at the stars.

—Oscar Wilde

On earth, in India, in cricket and those of us in the gutter who’ve earned enough money to aspire for the stars, but not enough to cohabit with them, are willing to pay for star-spotting. This year the IPL decided to monetise the thrill of gazing at the stars, a concept that caters essentially to arrivistes. For Rs 40,000, they can steal a few starry moments to brag about for a lifetime.

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Curious, I find myself in a scrum of young and beautiful ‘wannabes’ waiting to be allowed into an IPL party jostling and edging ahead of each other. They’re brash and aggressive, but they’re like lambs before the pushy bouncers and the officious custodian of lists that contain all the names—the names of invited guests and fans who’ve paid Rs 40,000 for Club Lounge passes. The man with the lists is peremptory, speaks with a strange accent and has a way of making his interlocutors visibly wither. The tipplers try every trick to gatecrash. They even resort to ingeniously contrived aliases by joining two common first and second names, Rahul and Sharma, for instance.

Those who manage to get past this man are tagged on the wrist and led into the big hall, the venue of the “exclusive” party. But the exclusivity has been sold wholesale to some 500 or more people, the proud partakers of the Karbonn IPL Night. Everyone with an uncle in DDCA or Delhi Daredevils, or cash to spare, is welcome. The sponsor, ironically, manufactures low-end mobiles and has paid to host a party in which people arrive in expensive sedans, even Bentleys. They wouldn’t be caught dead with one of its Rs 3,000 bargain phones.

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The players have finished their game some 90 minutes ago. They’ve travelled back to the hotel, taken a quick shower, changed into casuals and strolled into the party. The recent stars among them are keener; the bigger players, India regulars, have seen it all and would rather be elsewhere. Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir aren’t around. But there’s Rohit Sharma. Aspiring players and has-beens dominate—Dirk Nannes, Harmeet Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Adam Gilchrist....

They have an alluring compensation: a bevy of scantily clothed young women, blonde models and cheerleaders included. For a young player, this is heady stuff—liquor, music, smoke and beauties making eyes at him and whispering sweet nothings in their Russian accents. They’re hired to bring in the Caucasian quotient—Indians dig blonde hair and white skin.

Wives and girlfriends are not allowed on tour so players can focus on the game. But what about these parties?

At one end of the hall lies a private zone, ringed by low tables and protected by 12 bouncers; you can go in only by invitation. There’s also a temporary ramp. Suddenly, there’s an announcement, and a fashion show is under way. People rush towards the ramp, raise their mobiles to make recordings. It lasts some 15 minutes—but the clothes aren’t the cynosure of eyes, the lounging cricketers are. Then there’s some jiving. David Warner of Delhi, just knocked out of the IPL, is escorting three white women. Gradually, the forbidden zone fills up with pretty  girls: good looks seem to have opened the doors for them.

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One dark moment amid the flashing lights, I scaled a table and got into the private zone. Here there’s hectic drinking, smoking and dancing. There’s Adam Gilchrist, looking his age (38-plus), haggard, drinking a pint; he and Andrew Symonds are protected by two bodyguards of their own, who bar closer contact and even photography with the Australian has-beens. Test aspirant Rohit Sharma is drinking straight from the bottle, smoking and dancing. Paul Collingwood looks bewildered as fans pop up on either side and a brief flash tells him he’s been captured for posterity in a photograph with two strangers.

Cheerleaders rev up the night. Getty Images (From Outlook, May 3)

But such bewilderment doesn’t mean players aren’t enjoying the party. A source involved with several parties told Outlook: “Yes, players have picked up girls and taken them to their rooms. An Australian legend was once spotted coming out of the lift with dishevelled clothes, accompanied by a model.”

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Top India stars, though, aren’t keen on the parties—the hectic schedule of play-party-travel-practice is quite taxing. Besides, they want to avoid making unseemly contacts. “See the stupidity of the concept! The cricket board doesn’t want girlfriends or wives on tours because they don’t want players to be distracted,” says Latika Khaneja, director of Collage Sports Management, which manages several players. “But here in the parties they have all sorts of unsavoury people—Russian girls, hangers-on, people with children asking for autographs at 2 am!”

Latika says it’s no surprise that young players who’ve not tasted this life are happy at the parties. “Take the young  Daredevil Pradeep Sangwan. Girls are throwing themselves at him, why shouldn’t he attend such dos?” she asks. Latika is sure this is no way to nurture talent. “You take these impressionable kids to these parties, and all sorts of dirty folks are approaching them. Gambhir and Viru are not interested. Lalit Modi personally dragged Viru to two parties, and he ran away five minutes after Modi left. He doesn’t want to go there.”

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My favourite moment of the party came after it ended at around 4 am. A dude in jeans and a short beige jacket, who’d been with a pretty blonde, was holding a valet by the collar and steering him towards the reception. The reason: he was made to wait for his car. Soon, though, the tables turned. His neck was in the grip of the hotel’s burly security man, who was shouting: “How dare you manhandle our staff!”

That’s often the way a party ends for those who have to pay their way into a rich party. The gutter beckons.

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