Vijay Mallya, chairman of United Breweries Group, paid Rs12,000 an hour to each of the 14 Washington Redskins cheerleaders—the official and longest running professional cheerleading organization of America’s National Football League—to cheer for his IPL team, the Bangalore Royal Challengers.
Similarly, Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd had cheerleaders from Australia to add to the glamour quotient. The need for cheerleaders soon spread to other teams that contracted international and local dancers for the oomph factor.
But it all began to turn sour when Siddharam Mhetre, Maharashtra’s minister of state for home, labelled the girls and their dancing “obscene”. The controversy around cheerleaders escalated as various political leaders and women’s rights activists joined the minister in calling for a ban on cheerleaders—their clothes were not deemed proper.
Not in sync: The cheerleaders failed to connect with a section of Indians. (Manoj Patil / HT)
The cheerleaders too added to the war of words with claims of abuse and fears of molestation. Tabitha, a cheerleader from Uzbekistan, was quoted in Hindustan Times as saying: “I am shocked by the nature and magnitude of the comments people pass here. We are living in constant fear of being molested.”
Towards the close of the league matches, a compromise was visible. Cheerleaders continued to strut their stuff, only more conservatively. They wore tights to cover bare legs, shirts replaced bikini tops.
Even then, however, the ladies failed to connect with a section of Indian viewers. In the survey, 25% of the respondents across 11 cities disliked this aspect of IPL, with the maximum opposition coming from Chennai, followed by Bangalore.
“It’s not about being vulgar or culturally inappropriate, cheerleaders is a new concept for India which didn’t click—if it can be substituted with performances and dances, which Indians are used to, it would probably work just fine,” says sociologist Dipankar Gupta
While the teams remain unclear on hiring international cheerleaders for the next season, the Bangalore Royal Challengers had, much before the controversies began, run a contest wherein the winners would get a chance to train under the Washington Redskins and take over from them eventually. So, viewers may still get to see an Indianised version of cheerleading in IPL 2.
NOTHING TO CHEER ABOUT
The cheerleaders generated much hype and hoopla
25% of respondents across 11 cities disliked this aspect of IPL
39% in Chennai and 34% in Bangalore opposed the concept