18 April 2024 last updated at 15:13 GMT
LKM Blogs
In praise of Lalit Modi
M J Akbar

A question has left me wondering about an answer: how incendiary is the combination of great ideas with great luck? History must be full of sensational ideas that withered because they did not possess the luck that attracts capital, or finds the right moment when it can flower.

Lalit Modi, the genius who invented the Indian Premier League at some eureka point in his mind, might have easily failed if he had found a patron ten years before he did. If IPL was only about cricket, it would have been a pallid addition to the genre, and not that original either. It is spectacular because it merges game and spectator in a seamless knit through the elastic morality and entertainment needs of a new, young and successful India.

It can be argued that you cannot have economic reforms without social reforms, or perhaps the other way around; in any case India has both. IPL laced a six with sexual frisson. The cheerleaders with bikini pants, jiggling their bosoms behind the lame excuse of dance, and stories of sex-fuelled after-game parties, are as essential to the total experience as 22 players engaged in a contest.  Sport was once called war by other means. IPL is a one-night stand by other means. No one really cares who wins or who loses. Everyone cares about tension and excitement that must ideally culminate in an orgiastic final over.

As in sex, both sides win. Mass entertainment is the sum of individual sensibilities. The Indian sexual revolution, like all upheavals, has been building and bubbling below the surface for two decades at the very least. As usual, Mumbai-led commercial cinema, which survives by selling tickets to the street, and therefore must, ipso facto, recognise the onset of change and then help it forward in order to thrive, was the first mirror.

Helen, the iconic film dancer, who began her career in a Fifties’ skirt and ended with and Eighties’ cling-semi-see-through, belongs already to a forgotten age. Today’s item numbers leave neither the body nor its possibilities to imagination; and imagination has travelled long beyond the missionary position. For environmental evidence all you have to do is get details of the sex scandals that filter through even the tightly protected political class into the news. The contemporary Indian campus is another story altogether.

Cinema was limited largely to the controlled space of a hall, and social censorship was possible through the rating system as well as the obvious option that you did not have to buy a ticket. Television, particularly through item song-heavy music channels, has converted this revolution into a drawing room phenomenon. Print, inevitably, followed. The pressure from the market was too strong.

New morality

The new morality has not abandoned religion. We may no longer hear the old warble of supplication towards the almighty (Bhagwan...o duniya ke rakhwale sun dard bhari mere naalein) or the challenge to God (Bhagwan kabhi do gharhi insaan ban ke dekh, Dharti pe chaar din kabhi mehmaan ban ke dekh), but narratives from religious epics still dominate the screen and a faith-inspired qawali is as popular as ever. The appeal of religion continues to be non-denominational. But morality is no longer just a middle-class bedroom virtue. Its larger role has shifted to accountability in  governance. The rage against corruption tells its own story and media, in all its manifestations, must make it the lead. Lifestyle can co-exist but on the back pages.

Lalit Modi's luck ran out because he forgot that financial transparency is now a non-negotiable requirement in public life. And yet we must recognise the impact his IPL has made. The supplementary benefits have been breathtaking. It is my conviction that IPL has revived cricket in the West Indies. There is now an unprecedented financial reward for quality and genius. Sir Garfield Sobers would have been as rich as Sachin Tendulkar if he were playing today, and deservedly so: knighthood is nice, but it does not pay the bills beyond a limited point. A generation of West Indian kids must be dreaming about becoming Chris Gayle. Can you imagine the crowds that would have come for Viv Richards? Batting, bowling and fielding techniques have taken a radical turn for the better. Since the market pays the price, a dropped catch is not just letting the side down, it means a letting your own bank balance down as well. Fewer catches are dropped.

IPL has rescued Indian cricket from the stranglehold of that secret society called selectors. There was never much light between cricketers who flourished in the limelight and those hidden in anonymity. Today, the public sees tomorrow’s talent on the field, and knows the choice that is available. Prejudice in selection might still be possible, but it is no longer easy.

IPL is now part of the all-year seasons of cricket. Every season is not equal, but we celebrate a harvest with joy. IPL is a harvest of bounty.

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