When more people are reportedly watching more IPL cricket than any other kind of television, you know something is more than amiss. Something is very seriously wrong — with other kinds of television. If you had told us in 2008, when the IPL first hit the screen with sixes — Chris Gayle has more than 250 to his name and bat — that it would have us still watching its “outstanding” (to use a favourite commentary superlative) — shots, wickets, run-outs, wins, almost every day for nearly seven weeks in 2017, we would have hit you for a six.
But there it is. As the saying goes in Hindi, “bachche, budhe aur jawan”, in addition to a huge female fan following, come down early each summer with IPL fever. Symptoms include exhaustion from work and toxic travel, the need to collapse on the couch before a screen, stare blankly at the same for approximately three hours, sweat profusely and suffer fatigue with every other form of programming.
The IPL is a mind and muscle relaxant for millions of viewers in urban and rural areas. Another reason for its success at the end of a decade is the heat — no, not of the competition — during April and May.
It discourages any activity other than sprawling before the TV.
Another point is that the telecast is completely undemanding: It doesn’t wrench your chewed-out brain or excite your depleted emotional resources at the end of a hard day one teeny-weeny bit. It might exercise your loyalty to a particular team but not in the gym-wringing way the English Premier League or La Liga does — not by a treadmill.
Honestly? You may be only faintly interested in the outcome: If Delhi Daredevils win, wow; if they don’t, well, you can support Kolkata Knight Riders or Royal Challengers Bangalore, both of which are led by Delhi players — Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, respectively.
A fourth and related reason to the third is that cricket connoisseurs don’t consider IPL to be cricket at all. Sure, ball meets bat in the middle but beyond the boundary, it looks like a pyjama party with coloured clothing, flashy red bails/wickets and cheerleaders, to say nothing of some of the more outlandish “agricultural” shots cricket snobs would sneer at. Moreover, it is “fixed” (but so is the news?). Unbelievable fielding and catching — did you see Jaydev Unadkat in the final? — is of course better than in Tests or ODIs, and a wide array of slow motion replays from many angles make it a real treat.
Most of us who watch the games, accompanied by “super”, “fantastic”, “brilliant” commentary and Extraaaaaaaaaa (one for each year) Innings will agree that for all its impurities, it is pure and simple “family” entertainment. The insertion of “family” is crucial: There’s very little that the entire parivar can watch or want to watch together.
Let’s rephrase that: There is very little else, today, to watch at all, together or in solitude. The serials and soaps on entertainment channels are about as appetising as the same cup of tea reheated the next morning. Name one truly outstanding TV serial in Hindi? It’s the same old story of young love and family conflicts, or mythology and a song and dance show. Yawn.
The only serious competition for the IPL has come from the news, and not for the reasons you might suppose. People watch it for its entertainment value and rate it higher than Hindi soaps: There’s melodrama here — that too, 24×7 — manufactured conflict, good (nationalism) versus evil (anti-national) and enough screaming and shouting to fill the Eden Gardens cricket ground. The only equivalent would be an India-Pakistan one-day international which would include all of the above characteristics as well as cricket.
It wasn’t always so: In 2008, TV news was still sensible and sensitive to the need to provide news to viewers. Entertainment saw the launch of Colors with Balika Vadhu, Uttaran, etc. Kaun Banega Crorepati was on air, it was early days for Bigg Boss (then watchable) and that joyful Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma made its first appearance.
Then we dismissed IPL as kitsch. Those were the days when serials provided entertainment, news channels news and cricket was a five-day game. Now, 40 overs have everything we need.