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It's about talent, stupid

In India cricket and Bollywood capture the imaginations of the industrialist and the chai-wallah equally. But only one is worthy of the adulation it gets

Shilpa Shetty at the IPL auction, Goa, February 6, 2009
Canny businesswoman, yes, but great actress? © AFP

There was a moment in yesterday's match when we lost about four overs of audio commentary. It made me think about the book I'm currently reading, Jose Saramago's Blindness, where the citizens of a nameless place are mysteriously and suddenly afflicted by an epidemic of blindness and have to be herded off into a mental asylum. What would happen, I thought, if the commentators suddenly lost their voices? How would it change the way we watched cricket? And what would they do if they could no longer talk about cricket? But then it got really late. I was up with friends talking till two in the morning, and when I got home to my computer screen, I thought it would just be easier to talk about Shilpa Shetty.

The reason I choose Ms Shetty is because she engendered a raging two-hour debate yesterday, with said friends, about the influence of Bollywood. I made a throwaway remark at dinner, something to the effect of how she was slightly annoying and not that great looking, and one of my friends (who's really in the know), took me to task for it. He insisted that talent had nothing to do with it. He said that Ms Shetty was a perfectly lovely woman, an astute businesswoman, and that by the mere fact of her putting herself out there she had accomplished her goals (fame and fortune, I'm guessing), and had a lot more courage than all the many gutless people (us writers and commentators, I'm guessing) who sit back and make value judgments. He also added that I was in the minority, and that for every one of me, there were a thousand other people who adored her.

Well, I think all of us make value judgments at some level or the other, no matter how hard we try not to. And I think part of being a public figure is that you create an image distinctly "other" than what you may really be. I have no doubt that Ms Shetty is a good person, and that she gives back to society by way of charity. And I think she is remarkably clever for catapulting herself into the big league of Bollywood with the involvement of her team, the Rajasthan Royals, but can I help it if I don't necessarily put her on par with Meryl Streep as an actress? Does talent have nothing to do with it at all?

Perhaps I am an elitist, cultural snob, but I think there's something wrong with a society that doesn't evaluate why they follow people. It irritates me that I know so much about Bollywood when I hardly ever watch a Bollywood movie. It irritates me that many children in this country want to grow up to be a Bollywood star. Why? I can't really be sure. I guess I'm not entirely convinced of the effect of Bollywood. I question the power, the money and the adoration. The only thing I will concede is that in a country like India, where the inequalities are so vast, it's pretty damn amazing to have a unifying force that captures the imaginations of an industrialist and a chaiwallah equally.

But cricket has an equally wide-ranging appeal in this country too, doesn't it? And it doesn't irritate me at all. One of my other friends at dinner, (a Spanish guy, who had one eye on the Chelsea-Barcelona match while the Shilpa debate was going on), asked me if I ever wondered why it was that only 10 countries cared about cricket, while the rest were crazy about football? I guess it all comes down to numbers, doesn't it? And that India, with her billion-strong, can afford to be as peculiar as she wants in choosing the things she loves. But I think a lot of it still has to do with talent. There's no faking talent in cricket. But with Bollywood… well.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai

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