India Insight

Sari-clad cheerleaders add Indian touch to IPL franchise

March 27, 2012

The upcoming session of the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s glamour-packed cricket tournament, will see a sartorial anomaly come to life — cheerleaders wrapped in saris.

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, has decided to cover their cheerleaders in one of the most traditional Indian outfits — a marked departure from their 2008 wardrobe when a lot of skin, from midriff to thighs, was on display.

All these sari-clad cheerleaders would be “local hires” and will dance to classical Bengali music in between boundaries and fall of wickets. The team management is of the opinion this will help connect with Bengali cricket fans and improve ticket sales.

This is not the first time an IPL team has shunned short skirts and pompoms for a more conservative costume. Last year, the newest addition to the IPL franchise — Pune Warriors — had classical dancers, called ‘cheer queens’ in ethnic clothes. The owners had said these ‘cheer queens’ would showcase India’s rich and diverse culture on an international platform.

But could it be that this change in attire has less to do with a new-found respect for Indian culture, and more with economics? Since the 1920s, some analysts have believed that during times of economic hardships, hemlines drop dramatically. The theory, known as the hemline index, has been put to test recently. In recession-hit 2008, full-length dresses had been in vogue. In 2010, as stock prices rose, mini-skirts made a comeback.

When the IPL burst on the scene in 2008, it was all about big salaries and high TV ratings. The heady cocktail of high-profile team owners, swashbuckling players, scantily dressed foreign cheerleaders and after-match parties had the nation hooked. For a while, that is. Over the last four years, the league’s image has been tarnished by a series of scandals, TV ratings have dropped and team owners are still figuring out how to make the most of their investments.

So, is this switch to the sari a coincidence or does it reflect troubled times in what was called India’s biggest sporting extravaganza? Will shorts and cartwheels make a comeback if the franchise’s fortunes improve, or will the nine-yard fabric triumph?

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