India Insight

Piecing together the ‘Great Tamasha’ of Indian cricket

The Great Tamasha” is a book about cricket, but it is also a tale about the rapid rise of modern India and the corruption that plagues it. A series of scandals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the glitzy Twenty20 tournament run by the country’s cricket board, got James Astill hooked to the game in India. What followed was the 40-year-old journalist’s first book – an account of India’s rich cricketing tradition, politics, religion and the emergence of the cash-rich IPL.

Astill takes the reader from the slums of Mumbai to a village in north India, places where cricket is as much tamasha (spectacle) as it is religion. Bollywood stars, business tycoons and cricketers, both past and present, feature in “The Great Tamasha”. So does Lalit Modi, a former IPL chairman, now an outcast in India’s cricketing circles.

Astill spoke to India Insight about his book, cricket and its celebrity culture. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: Why “Tamasha,” which can mean “spectacle,” “commotion” or a tempest in a teapot?
A: The idea of spectacle and entertainment or theatricality in public life, sometimes chaotically, sometimes premeditatedly… It’s that coincidence of meaning that I wanted.

Q: “Tamasha” is being increasingly used in a negative sense in India.
A: The fact that it is used pejoratively is nonetheless something I wanted to capture. As you say, Indians speak of the IPL, speak of goings-on in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) dismissively as just tamasha — not serious cricket, not serious politics. I wanted that attitude also to be contained in the meaning, in the title, but that’s not necessarily my view.

Sari-clad cheerleaders add Indian touch to IPL franchise

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.

IPL Kochi on its way out?

A policeman stands guard at one of the entrances to a cricket stadium during a match in the IPL tournament in Kolkata April 19, 2010. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal/Files
It’s intriguing arithmetic. After adding two new franchises to its stable, the Indian Premier League now runs the serious risk of going into its fourth edition with seven cricket teams, one less than the original eight.

In that March 21 news conference in Chennai, Lalit Modi, still one month away from a dramatic dumping, was doing what he does best — reeling off mindboggling numbers.

Modi welcomed Pune and Kochi on board and waxed eloquent on how recession-proof the cash-awash league was.

Privatise the Commonwealth Games?

A labourer stands in front of boards advertising the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mansi ThapliyalThere are two reports today that say everything about the fiasco of the Commonwealth Games. On the one hand, while Delhi government cleaners are apparently refusing to clean the toilets at the Games village because they were so “nauseating”, the Games organisers are calling in the help of some luxury private hotels, including the Taj and Oberoi, to help with hygiene.

There you have it. After nearly four years in India, most of the positive headlines I have read have come from the can-do attitude of Indian business or the energy of non-government grassroots organisations. The negative has mostly come from rafts of stories of the Indian state – the skimming of billions of dollars, the failure of basic health and education services.

For all the criticism that is being levelled at India, the most unfair somehow is that this country cannot organise events to the standard of the globalised 21st century. False. Just look at how one businessman, Lalit Modi, set up the Indian Premier League (IPL), which revolutionised cricket with its 20-over format and imported cheerleaders. After security concerns in
2008, organisers moved the IPL — in many ways more complex than the Games because it takes place over nearly two months in different cities — to South Africa within weeks, a huge feat of logistics.

Has Shashi Tharoor dug his own political grave?

Is it too early to write the political obituary of Shashi Tharoor, who over the weekend resigned from the post of junior foreign minister not even a year into holding the post?

Shashi TharoorSome commentators have already written him off. Others, including a report in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cite Congress party sources to say Tharoor has not lost all the goodwill of the leadership and could one day make a comeback.

His resignation, so they say, had more to do with Congress not wanting to be seen to let Tharoor get away with it.

from Left field:

Will India as No.1 team prove the tonic for test cricket?

India's crushing 2-0 series win over Sri Lanka to become the number one ranked test team for the first time has triggered huge celebrations across the cricket-crazy nation.

The hosts, ranked number three, leapfrogged leaders South Africa and the second-ranked Sri Lanka to become the first team other than Australia or the Proteas to head the list.

In an ideal world, the development in the game's global commercial hub should work wonders for the classical format, overshadowed by both the limited-over formats, especially after the rise of Twenty20. India owes its current commercial clout to the shock World Cup win in 1983 which particularly turned the 50-over game into a cash cow.

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