|Shabnam Dey (left) at the Eden Gardens with son Shreyan and niece Anwesha last Wednesday. Pictures by Jhinuk Mazumdar and Rith Basu
Shabnam Dey wouldn’t be seen wearing a pair of plastic bull horns and be unselfconscious about it anywhere else. Sangeeta Giri, her cheeks painted in purple and gold, wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the “jumping jhapak” in front of strangers at any other gathering.
Trust IPL to cock a snook at critics and conquer the last bastion of sport: women who would otherwise snigger at the suggestion of going to a stadium to watch a game, any game.
Homemakers to professionals, gender rights activists to cricket commentators, the majority seems to agree that the IPL package of prime-time T20 cricket, music, food, dance, Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, and some pretty good looking men in pyjamas who can hit big sixes, is hard to resist for women.
And the best part of it? They can let go of themselves without being “looked at”.
“I wear these weird-looking horns and scream at the top of my voice and no one is looking at me, which is great. As women, most of us are wary of being watched, but on the ground during an IPL match you don’t get identified as a woman because everyone else is enjoying the same freedom,” says businesswoman Shabnam Dey, 33.
She was at the Eden Gardens on May 24 with six-year-old son Shreyan. Many other women were there for the Kolkata Knight Riders’ match against Sunrisers Hyderabad without sons, husbands, fathers, brothers or boyfriends in tow.
Like Priyanka Roy, a 24-year-old IT employee, who bought a seat in Block L to see Shah Rukh from close, in between the cricket of course! While SRK didn’t turn up, there was not a dull moment for Priyanka as she tapped her feet to Baby Doll, Gandi Baat and Lungi Dance while watching the Sunrisers bowlers getting hammered.
“I can dance on my seat at an IPL match. There are only two other places where I can do the same thing: a wedding and a nightclub. Even there, a woman would feel self-conscious. But at an IPL match, you feel like you have broken free,” says Shilpi Jaiswal Sen, a company executive who was at Eden for the Knights versus Sunrisers match a week ago.
For her and many other women, an IPL match is the equivalent of a strategic timeout in between having to worry about an office project or the child’s school assignment or even the dinner menu. To organisers of sports events like the IPL where every rupee spent must be an eyeball earned, women coming in droves means more revenue.
“Without the presence of women, a sport can’t really prosper. This was realised way back in 1978 by Kerry Packer when he launched World Series Cricket,” says cricket commentator and columnist Kishore Bhimani.
Packer had started a cricket league where he brought some of the world’s top players under contract. Australian, West Indian and English cricketers who joined the Packer series ended up being banned by their boards but the idea clicked. “Packer introduced coloured clothing, white balls, black sightscreens and music. When you passed by the stadium, the music would attract you,” Bhimani recalls.
Glamour-packed IPL is every bit a Packer offspring. “The Packer logic was that a woman may not be interested in feasting on (Ken) Barrington’s cover drive or judge if David Gower was technically sound. But the ambience and the whole package of pyjama cricket would draw her to the stadium. This is exactly what IPL is replicating,” says Bhimani.
Many women spectators at IPL matches may not be able to tell a leg glance from a leg break but they are no longer afraid of being judged in a stadium full of self-appointed cricket experts. After all, this is IPL, and it isn’t only about cricket!
“Women are breaking some traditional codes but also conforming to certain others, ones that are acceptable and welcome on the sports field. It fills them with a sense of freedom,” explains Paromita Chakraborti, director of the School of Women Studies at Jadavpur University.
The magic of a collective emotional experience is also what draws many women, according to Chakraborti.
Improved in-stadia security, which other sports have failed to provide, is another reason for IPL becoming popular among women. Interior designer Sonali Sarkar, 40, had stopped going to the Eden Gardens after an ugly experience in the late Nineties. It took IPL to lure her back to the stadium a couple of seasons ago.
Groups of women — not just friends but from within families too — are a common sight in the Eden stands now. Rita Baid, 52, watched Wednesday’s match with daughter Nidhi, 19, and niece Nehal Mehta, 25. Ashmita Sinha was there with daughter Shreshta, a student of Class V, and son Pramit, in Class III. Her husband didn’t go because of work.
Apart from all the accoutrements that make IPL hot property, the short duration of T20 matches suits many women as much as it does male spectators who think Test cricket is for nerds.
Maitri Bhutoria, a 19-year-old student of Shri Shikshayatan College, is a fan of Robin Uthappa but would not go to a ground to watch him in a 50-over-match, let alone a Test. “I find the other formats too long and devoid of fun,” she says.
Aritree Sarkar, for whom Wednesday’s play-off was her third visit to an IPL match at Eden, too is game for T20 but not any other form of cricket. “You can sing, dance and also catch a few stars if you are lucky. That’s a deal you don’t get in ODIs, forget Test cricket,” says the 17-year-old.
Former Test cricketer and commentator Arun Lal sees in the increase in women spectators not just a victory for the concept of IPL. “It is important for people to love their tryst with a game. And IPL has been successful in kindling that kind of interest for women who were otherwise not very interested in sports.”
For now, love for IPL is making the world go round for a lot of women!
Are you a woman who goes to a cricket stadium only for an IPL match? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org