The Telegraph
Friday , April 5 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Akshay-Sonakshi-Imran at Eden

We always hear of superstars at war. Over a film… over a director… over a heroine…. This one was over Eden Gardens. The Kolkata Knight Riders vs Delhi Daredevils encounter on Wednesday, the inaugural game of IPL-6, will not stand out for the cricket. It was the night when two Bollywood superstars chose to lock horns, one holding on to his IPL turf even as the other (somewhat rebelliously) used it to promote his cause.

Akshay Kumar — Sonakshi Sinha and Imran Khan in tow — landed up at Eden on Wednesday evening to promote Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai… Again. The August 8 release in which Akshay plays Shoaib, an underworld kingpin said to be loosely inspired by Dawood Ibrahim, may be still in the post-production stage, but the team chose to start their promotional campaign with the first game of the IPL.

And in full view of their August 8 rivals — Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone, whose Rohit Shetty film Chennai Express is also set to chug into the theatres that Thursday to max the Id weekend.

At 8.05pm, t2 slipped in with Akshay, Sonakshi and Imran into Gold Lounge 6 of the Knights Pavilion at Eden. The three had taken their movie-meets-match visit quite seriously. Proof? They were all in white tees emblazoned with ‘Once Upon A Time in IPL’. Shout out loud, right?

“It was so sweet of Twinkle (Akshay’s wife) to come up with these tees at the last minute,” Sonakshi told t2, as the three settled into their seats.

Fans, who had so far been concentrating on the cricket in front and craning their necks westwards occasionally hoping for a glimpse of King Khan, did an about turn when word quickly got around that the Khiladi and his team were parked just a few metres above them, but in an air-conditioned box.

Mobile phone cameras went into overdrive as fans young and old, kids and mothers, wives and girlfriends, cheered and waved at Akshay. The Khiladi obliged with a smile and an occasional wave.

For those thinking that Akshay and Co. would blatantly support the Delhi Daredevils after being given a cold shoulder by Team SRK would have been in for a surprise. Every KKR boundary was cheered, the fall of every DD wicket was high-fived. “I love the game… I don’t support any team. For me, cricket is always the winner. I love the tension that accompanies every IPL match… it just sets my adrenaline pumping,” Akshay told t2.

Even as Akshay and Imran were glued to the game, Sonakshi seemed a tad lost, often taking a break to play games on her mobile phone. Reason? “What’s the point watching the match from a soundproof box? Let’s go out and watch it with the crowd and scream with them,” she kept telling Akshay. His response? A nod and an indulgent smile.

That was the hands-off fun between the two. Otherwise, Akshay kept pulling Sonakshi’s hair and she mock-slapped him often. Imran, clearly the outsider in the Rowdy Rathore gang’s bonhomie, chose to keep an eye on the ball, either on the pitch or on the TV screen next to him.

t2 found Aamir Khan’s nephew glued to the TV set even between overs — once when his own Maaza ad with Parineeti Chopra was on air and then when friend and rival Ranbir Kapoor’s new commercial for Pepsi found a spot. “At least you’re on TV even if we aren’t,” exclaimed Sonakshi. Clearly, Team Akshay was prepared to be blacked out by the TV cameras on King Khan’s homeground.

And then there was the food. Popcorn to several rounds of soft drinks, Chicken Kebabs to Papri Chaat and even plates of Raj Kachori Chaat — whipped out from the Speciality Restaurants menu by Akshay’s ever-resourceful secretary Zenobia — everything was polished off in a jiffy. Diet, what diet?

Suddenly, Akshay got busy counting crows. Not the Big Yellow Taxi band, but literally the number of crows that flew on to the Eden turf. At one point, he was even laying bets with Imran and Sonakshi on the number of crows that would fly onto the field!

“Hey, that’s our song,” screamed Sonakshi a little later as the DJ played Akshay’s hit party anthem Subah hone na de followed by Hookah bar.

All the while, fans of all shapes and sizes, ages and accents kept trooping in to click pictures with Akshay and gang, all of whom obliged with a smile. The procession of fans seemed endless. But Akshay — unacknowledged by Shah Rukh on his home turf — was only too happy with the attention.

But it was when the three walked out on the balcony of the Delhi Daredevils box that the Khiladi Kumar knew that his Eden stopover had been truly worth it. As Akshay, Sonakshi and Imran leaned over the silver railing, fans lost focus on the match, lunging forward to touch their hands, click their pictures, thrust autograph books in their faces and simply scream out their names.

As a smiling Akshay walked out of Eden moments later, he knew that the night had been won. Khiladi style.

So what if SRK and the SET Max cameras pretended that he was invisible?