By now, we’ve all seen the high-stake, high-pressure, glamorous to the point of being overdone season of cricket that is the Indian Premier League. It’s obvious that the BCCI has pinned high hopes on its latest cash cow, not only pouring tons of money into the actual league but all the fluff that comes with it. But is it just me who seems to think the league gets more and more bizarre every year?
If it isn’t bad enough to see professional cricketers selling you every product under the sun while attempting to do some terrible Bollywood moves (seriously, must everything Indian be equated to Bollywood?), the IPL has made it their business to sell one more thing to their viewers - women.
There is way too much that can be said about the treatment of women in the Indian media, but one rather hoped it wouldn’t carry into a sport that not just India, but the entire subcontinent, hold so dear. There has already been a lot of debate on the host of glamorous female presenters involved in the IPL, and in previous years, their lack of cricketing knowledge has made them easy and, in my opinion, unfair targets of criticism. But it seems like the organisers have taken these charges all too seriously and introduced a whole new segment of women who randomly pop up in the games, don’t say a word and yet manage to induce a cringe fest like no other (at least for the female fans).
There are of course the cheerleaders that, in a country with such a terrible record regarding the fetishisation of women’s bodies, are already crossing a boundary that didn’t need to be crossed. It says a lot about our still-colonised concepts of beauty that most of these women tend to be white and judging by their poor dancing skills, that’s all they needed to be to qualify for this job. Given that India holds so much dancing talent, you would expect both women and men to be providing more indigenous forms of entertainment in a slightly less showy way.
But what recently grabbed my attention was the gimmick before the Kolkata Knight Riders versus Rising Pune Supergiant game at Eden Gardens, where a beautiful young woman appeared with the ball hidden in a bowl full of apples, and coquettishly offered them to umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan, who flirtatiously wagged his fingers at her until she offered him the ball. During this entire unnecessary exercise, you hear the commentators laughing and saying “how do you like them apples?”
And now I’ve seen it all. According to an AFP article, one-third of fans at the stadiums are female, a statistic that is not confirmed but considered to be highly likely by IPL’s crowd data provider Skidata. But what IPL is providing seems purely for the entertainment of the male crowds, coming up with one ridiculous stunt after the other with no purpose than to expose the already excited crowds to the freshest, youngest, sexiest bodies in town.
The fact that cricket has always struggled with issues of sex and race are all too well-known. Remember when Chris Gayle kept hitting on female reporters and after getting a fairly light reprimand, they managed to repackage his now-famous advances as a tagline for a condom advert and make even more money? Remember when Shahid Afridi was asked about women’s cricket, and he literally said they belong in the kitchen? Remember when Navjot Singh Sidhu and Samir Kochhar asked Isa Guha, one of the best seamers the English women’s team have ever seen, which IPL player she found the hottest? But why blame the players when the entire system is so rotten?
We can pretend this is all fun and games, but it isn’t. Popular culture in India plays a huge role in how women are viewed and treated, not just in India, but in countries like Bangladesh too where Indian media is a constant presence in so many households. On top of that, cricket occupies the hearts and minds of people in our part of a world in a way that it just doesn’t in any other culture, and it is beyond sad to see it reduced to this.
IPL has done what I previously thought was unthinkable - turned a classy game of cricket into a cross between a soap opera and an Indian wedding - glamorous, exaggerated, garish and reinforcing stereotypes like nobody’s business. As someone who has grown up hero worshipping cricketers and cricket, to say that the IPL is a disappointment is an understatement.
It wasn’t just the boys back then, we all idolised Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar back in the day. We watched with bated breath when Allan Donald and Lance Klusener’s calamitous run-out dashed South Africa’s World Cup dreams, and we all shed happy tears when Bangladesh got their first ever victory against Pakistan, and began our journey to becoming the team we are now. I wonder how easily those tears would have flowed to the rhythm of scantily clad women gyrating suggestively at the boundaries?