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On A Strong Wicket?

Films and cricket are widely considered to be only mass obsessions that manage to hold sway across a hugely diverse India. However, if one is to determine the pecking order of these two popular endeavors, then we need look no further than this fact: while filmmakers keep a close eye on the cricketing calendar and plan their release strategies to avoid clashing with important cricketing tourneys, there have been no reported sightings of the powers-that-be at ICC or BCCI checking out the‘ Next Attractions’ page of Box Office India while determining cricketing schedules!

With the national cricket team in any case playing pretty much the whole year through, the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 further narrowed ‘safe’ windows for film releases.

The IPL was a huge and instant success and it’s not difficult to see why – 4 hours of non-stop action with a guaranteed result, the best cricketers from around the world, attractive (not to mention scantily dressed!) cheerleaders, and a huge dollop of film glamour with stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty owning teams and many more enthusiastically attending matches.

What makes IPL such a potent threat is that it is custom-made for the television viewing audience, and if one can get 4 to 8 hours of free and compelling entertainment in one’s own house, why would anyone want to shell out a couple of hundred bucks or more to watch a film that one may or may not like? To make matters worse, the tournament lasts for almost two months… so that’s a good chunk of the calendar that is a virtual no-fly zone for the film industry.

But is all that about to change?

The disastrous performance of the Indian cricket team in England and the recently concluded Test series in Australia have led to a very discernable wave of disenchantment and disappointment – as is evident from the nose-diving TRPs of match telecasts. Ironically, this steep fall has come less than a year from what many considered the high-point of India’s cricketing achievement and something that was considered to be a harbinger of even greater popularity – the ICC World Cup win.

The multi-million dollar question, as far as the film trade is concerned, is whether the cricket fan’s anger and switching-off of TV sets extend to the IPL too? While many will argue that the IPL is a different kettle of fish (it is designed to ensure that no matter what, an Indian team wins!), the feeling we get is that this time, the bitterness(not to mention weariness) of the cricket fan is very likely to make an impact on IPL season 5, which kicks off on April 4 and culminates on May 27.

Indeed, a certain dip in ratings was already visible last season and we will be highly surprised if that trend doesn’t continue – and intensify – this year. And if that does indeed transpire, it is quite possible that people may turn to the other national obsession, films, to get their entertainment fix.

Which can only be good news for the trade in general and particularly for those filmmakers who chose to schedule the release of their films during the IPL though conventional wisdom suggested otherwise

As they say: fortune favours the brave!

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