And the point is?…

MF in the buff

Okay — this is bad derivative art. But how is it a protest? What message does it send the exiled painter other than that absence makes the fundamentalist obsess even more? [While on that, check this out: A ‘Hindu outfit’ finds nothing wrong with a Husain painting of the Buddha, but wants it removed from public display anyway. Very much on the lines of ‘I dislike thee, Doctor Fell/The reason why I cannot tell’]

Oh, and I so love the ‘weasel’ in the story.

Top Secret

Okay, if there is anyone from Gujarat reading this, stop right now — I don’t need Narendra Modi on my case. For the rest of you, here goes — an excerpt from Jinnah, the book at the center of the ongoing fuss.

Happily ever after, and how

While Sleeping Beauty was sleeping beautifully, she somehow manages to get pregnant — and wakes up to find herself the mother of twins.

Phew! And you thought my retelling of the Mahabharat was way out in left field?

Courtesy Mental Floss, the not so well known endings of a few favorite fairy tales. And staying on this revisionist tack for a beat longer, the origins of some of these tales are not quite so pure as Snow White.

IPL registers 20% drop in viewers

A day after Lalit Modi talked up the IPL as among the top five sports brands in the world, comes this story.

A Viewertrack report published by the independent global sports consultancy Futures Sport+Entertainment shows an average 20 percent fall in viewership across five major cricket-playing countries – India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain.

Taken individually, the only exception was South Africa where audiences grew by more than 80 percent on account of the country hosting the IPL this year following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008. There was a fall in the other four markets.

What should worry those seeking to build a global brand, however, is not the overall drop in viewer figures, but this other statistic:

In terms of market share, India registered a massive 96 percent for both the 2008 and 2009 seasons, while South Africa’s share rose from two to three percent.

But Australia’s share shrank from two to one percent after a switch from free-to-air to pay TV, and for the second year running audiences in England and New Zealand remained so small they accounted for zero percent when rounded to the nearest percentage point.

The key takeaway here would be that despite the presence of foreign stars in each of the eight franchises, the IPL has not managed to build significant fan bases in markets outside India. Couple that with the fact that even India has shown the effects of viewer fatigue, with IPL-2 numbers dropping below IPL-1 levels, and the management of the franchise has a huge headache on its hands.

“There is substantial scope for growth in the international popularity of the format, and consequently in the revenues that could accrue to all relevant parties,” it says.

“Having a format that is relevant and compelling is critical, and the relatively small TV audiences drawn by the IPL in international markets suggests that the IPL has not yet cracked the formula for attracting fans the world over.”…

Alavy said cricket fans in Australia and Britain watched the recent World Twenty20 Cup more than the IPL.

“Hence a big challenge for IPL will be how to build an international supporter base, with fans feeling an allegiance to particular franchises, rather than merely their favourite players,” the reports said.

One key to a possible solution could lie in the fact that more fans in Britain and Australia watched the World Cup than IPL. Patriotism is one reason for sure — but another crucial one could well be the extended, ennui-inducing nature of the IPL schedule.

For now, the IPL is headed in the exact opposite direction, with its focus firmly on finding new marketing opportunities to milk rather than on rationalizing the tournament itself.

Strategic time outs a bad idea? No problem, Modi said recently, we will now complicate things even further by introducing two of the things in each innings. He also announced that IPL-3 will have slots for three more ‘official sponsors’, three additional ‘associate partners’, and sponsors for the orange cap for best batsman and purple cap for best sponsor [I bet the commentators just can’t wait — ‘Mathew Hayden’s 50 which gets him the orange cap has been brought to you by Pantaloon’]. Also on the anvil are tenders to be floated for ‘theatrical rights’ [Eh? I thought Ravi Shastri had cornered the market on that one], merchandising licenses et al.

All of that is just next year — the real fun begins in 2011, when two new franchises get added to the mix and, hold your breath, the IPL expands into 90 games.

I could be wrong, but my gut feel is season three will continue the viewer slide of season two while further elevating the IPL on the one scale that matters to Modi: money. Somewhere around the corner, likely at the fag end of season 3, there could be some fresh-brewed coffee waiting to be smelt.

Say what?

“It also seems fair to say that the relationship was ‘sexual’, in the sense that it could only have existed between a man and a woman.”

That wtf line is from a ToI story about Imran Khan and the late Benazir Bhutto. Will someone please translate?

Ashes to ashes

In just a few hours, the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series begins — and how good is that! It means that five days from now tops, we will know which of the two teams gets to keep the remains of burnt out bails.  Or more to the point, it means that five days from now, we will not have to read any more about what has turned into the Flintoff test.

Nothing against Fred; nothing against an iconic player getting a fitting send off either — but for over two weeks now, all discussion on England’s prospects seem to begin and end with Freddie, and this is getting to be faintly ludicrous. If the message is that for England to have a chance, Flintoff must play, what then does it say for the rest of the players? And extending that thought, can we all stop writing about English cricket next week on — since Flintoff will have left the Test scene, so England won’t rate any more? Steve James in a recent Telegraph piece speaks of the concomitant cacophony attendant on the outsize star:

What the England management didn’t want was further trouble from the awkward, avaricious PR machine that drives Flintoff – the reason why he has arrived at Tests this season wearing hooded tops bearing the logo of his personal sponsor rather than England’s, the reason why he shamelessly turns his bat round to expose another sponsor’s logo whenever a photographer ventures near a net session. But they did get that and, in a strange way, it was good that Chandler made his remarks. At the appropriate moment it has neatly provided the fuller picture. During this Oval Test there will doubtless be a guard of honour for Flintoff’s departure, deserved ovations, appreciative waves and even some tears. It will be emotional. It always is.

But, on the flip side, the truth is that Flintoff and his concomitant cacophony are often a distraction, and have been for some time. Flintoff has changed since his heroics of 2005. Team-mates will say as much in private. The cult of celebrity, our need for heroes and some naked commercial exploitation have all played their parts.

So buckle up for one last celebration. Hopefully, there will be some decent cricket in there somewhere, too. On the tangential note of cricketers and farewells, Dileep Premachandran on the cautionary tale that is Vinod Kambli’s career, and the stark contrast with contemporary Rahul Dravid:

In the years to come Kambli will be both cautionary tale and trivia question. After all, how many play their last Test at the age of 23 and finish with an average of 54? On the Waterfront’s “I could have been a contender” line will always shadow his every step…