Bollywood’s interest in the game of Kabaddi, good media coverage, and big money pouring in, could change the perception of the sport that is primarily played in Indian villages. Almost everybody laughed when the idea of a Pro-Kabaddi League in India was first discussed.
But once the tournament started, many more people (than expected) were glued to the television sets during the matches. The presence of Bollywood stars (Junior Bachchan, Aishwarya) only made it look more appealing.
When Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan’s team Jaipur Pink Panthers lifted the winner’s trophy at the Star Sports Pro-Kabaddi League finale, many felt that the game of Kabaddi (played mostly in the villages of India) may get a new lease of life.
The renewed buzz over kabaddi in small villages, such as Dera, is because of the glamour & big money associated with the professional kabaddi league (made-for-TV tournament with thumping music, fancy lights, Bollywood stars, fashionistas and big money).
Such was the impact of the tournament on youngsters in villages (they saw so many kabaddi players rubbing shoulders with Bollywood stars and sharing the limelight) that many feel they too can be stars.
“This was a poor man’s village game, wilting away in modern India. It has got a new breath of life.”
Star India executives say that, “Kabaddi has deep roots and resonance, but the challenge was to present it for the urban middle-class Indians as a style and attitude statement. To get them to say ‘Oh my god, kabaddi is actually quite cool’.
Star India definitely had done there home work well.
They knew that Indians now have a new found self-confidence and they are ready to explore what’s in store in their own back yard, in addition to chasing what’s cool abroad. In addition, the presence of movie stars, family of Mukesh Ambani (India’s richest businessman) only made the tournament look more glamorous.
The games generated more than 2 billion digital mentions. Opening night drew 10 times the number of TV viewers as soccer’s World Cup this year, making pro kabaddi the second-biggest sport after cricket here, the channel said. About 426 million people watched the games over 36 days.
Kabaddi scene from the movie Pardes
In the village of Dera, the number of young children at kabaddi practice has tripled since the TV league. And now, villagers have set themselves the goal of producing at least four players for next year’s pro kabaddi season.
“The pro kabaddi game drew such glamorous and powerful people. The league players even got police security as if they were VIPs. This makes us feel so important. Nobody bothered about us until now. We were just dismissed as those who play in the mud,” says Rohit Sharma, a truck driver by night and kabaddi player by day.
Until now, the biggest wish of players in Dera was to be picked by the government for a police or railway job because of their talent.
But now the young Kabaddi players are also dreaming of TV fame and fortune, and of course getting the opportunity to see and interact with big Bollywood stars.
Inputs from helsinkitimes.fi