Abstract: Celebrities are part of a society and the role played by them requires close analysis. Often, sporting celebrities are taken as role models by people for their success. In India, Sachin Tendulkar is an idol created by the public and media together. The role of the Indian middle class in the formation of Sachin as a God needs to be examined in the light of neoliberal social set up.
Keywords: celebrity, culture, middleclass, cricket, middle class culture, Sachin Tendulkar
A celebrity is never born, he is rather created by the public as a whole with the help of mass media which construct images in this direction. Thus, a celebrity attains an indisputable stature, a position which is revered by the populace. However, the person influences the lives of millions through his life, customs and mannerisms, values and perspectives etc. In the neo-liberal global scenario where media occupies the pivotal status in determining the tastes of a society, celebrities are constantly produced and celebrity culture is meticulously manufactured. Ellis Cashmore, in his work Celebrity Culture opines: “Celebrity culture became a feature of social life, especially in the developed world, during the late 1980s / early 1990s, and extended into the twenty-first century, assisted by a global media which promoted, lauded, sometimes abominated and occasionally annihilated figure, principally from entertainment and sports” (3). In fact, this culture dominated the existing cultural paradigms through consistent renovation and restructuring where people were forced to comply with it as the latest prototype. In India, the emergence of, powerful middle class, post neo- liberalisation paved the way for revolutionary changes in the cultural and social arenas of life. The Indian middle class accepted the celebrity culture gleefully and it fashioned their approach to life. The origin of Bollywood is significant in this aspect as it provided them with the illusionary world of half -truths and half – realities centered on deified individuals or the superstars. Towards the last decade of the twentieth century, cricket emerged as the national sport and a means of entertainment and this scripted a new shift in the celebrity culture as new heroes originated (Nandy 107).
India is a place where celebrities attain such a glorious stature as they are considered as equals to deities. Nowhere in the world temples are built in the names of film stars and cricketers are revered above anyone. The public as a whole engages in this act of hero worship and icons are constructed and the process achieves an altogether new level with the help of mass media; no wonder such figures are placed at the pinnacle of the societal fabric as the unquestioned role models. As a cricket – crazy nation, the Indian public is infamous for their crazy attitude towards our cricketers, which exceeds all possible limits of idolisation and frenzy (Bose 27). India is the only place where effigies are burnt and houses are torched when the cricketers fail to succeed at the international stage. In such a scenario, the image of Sachin Tendulakar as the ideal hero of the Indian middleclass deserves serious attention. In fact, Sachin has been the undisputed sporting, national symbol of India for the last two decades and even a iota of criticism of him is always seen as an act of treason.
“I have seen God, he plays at number four for India,” Mathew Hayden said this about Sachin Tendulkar. “King of sports relinquished the throne” “God bade farewell” and “The God on his seventh day,” were the headlines of the chief news articles in leading Indian English dailies on November 15, 2013. In fact, the previous day witnessed the last innings of Sachin Tendulkar, in international matches. Hayden’s words and the aforesaid headlines speak volumes about the larger-than-life image of the player with his quasi-religious and royal associations. Th titles ‘God’ and ‘King’ are attributed to him (The Week 41).
Sachin Tendulkar and the Middle Class
Sachin Tendulkar’s ascension to stardom and the evolution of the middle class in India are almost simultaneous. A cause and effect study of the two is feasible in that context. It was in the late 1980s that the Indian economy recovered from the so-called ‘Hindu rate of growth ‘a concept put forward by Raj Chetty to describe the nearly stagnant 3% growth in Indian economy vis- a-vis the growth of the other Third World nations. This was facilitated by a spurt in India’s service sector, especially the IT enabled services. The urban middleclass formed the core of the employees in this sector. It is this class which later became the backbone of a service sector which fuelled Indian economy. The liberalisation regime in the post 1991 phase further strengthened the cause of this class. It is this, the urban middle-class engaged in service sector, which staunchly supported and iconised Sachin Tendulkar (Nalappattu 16). The dream run of the Indian economy in the period after 1991 created a sort of ‘Indian Dream,’ which can be described as an extreme form of patriarchal feeling whereby the image of the nation was exalted in the imagination. The urban middle class had a crucial role in the creation of the Indian dream. Since IT is a global business, this class came to have greater foreign contacts. As a person’s identity is inextricably interlinked with his or her nationality, it was imperative for the members of this class to project a favourable image of the nation. The best way to do this was by creating heroes or icons. The period was one of political instability and hence it was not possible to find a hero from politics. Indian films had a limited reach owing to the language barrier and the ball came to the court of sports (Nalappattu 17).
The true significance of Sachin Tendulkar was that in the first place, he was globally recognised for his talent. Secondly, he came to epitomise all those qualities those middle class employees, mostly belong to of IT sector wished themselves to be within the eyes of their foreign counterparts. Tendulkar is largely a non-controversial personality who is believed to maintain a discipline in personal life, and is a staunch believer in religion and contributor to charity works, the very qualities that the middle-class in India wished to possess.
Patriotism and Sports
As a true champion, Sachin Tendulkar’s presence on the field would transform the mood of the nation. Unemployed youth saved money to buy a ticket for a game just to see their hero in flesh and blood. Housewives packed their children to schools and husbands to work and finished the kitchen – chores in time to take their coveted seats in front of televisions of India. Sachin was a team man and cricket is a team game but often individuals lose their perspective when dealing with challenges and selfish interests cloud a player’s approach in times of distress but Sachin was above such thoughts. Tendulkar’s entry into world cricket was hyped up by former Indian stars and those who had seen him play. However, his consistent performance earned him a fan following across the globe, including amongst Australian crowds, where Tendulkar has consistently scored centuries. There have been many instances when Sachin’s fans have gone to extremes over his dismissal in a game. As per reports in many Indians newspapers, a man hung himself being distressed over Sachin’s failure to reach the 100th century. Sudhir Kumar Chaudary, a fan of Tendulkar from Bihar has followed almost all the matches played by Sachin since 2003 and has sacrificed his personal life to watch him play. He says, “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God.” Tendulkar remains, by a distance, the most worshipped cricketer in the world. Sachin was a role model for the young generation and made an impact on the minds of those who looked for salvation in times of anguish. Cricket matches create a feeling of national unity among the audience. The media report matches using war vocabulary. Newspaper reports create an influence in the mind of the readers. Cricket is a game which spreads a unique kind of enjoyment to the audience all around the world and when international matches are held in India, a huge audience gathers there and national feeling gets intense. During Indo-Pak matches the ground resembles a battle field.
Sachin in his retirement speech quoted Enoch Pavelin the poet: “The political life which does not end in its peak, time will be Great failure.” We can also remember Sunil Gavaskar who retired from the field without making any kind of complaint for retirement and Kapil Dev who was following the record of Richard Hadley during his retirement from the field. Sachin took the encumbrance of the batting of Indian Cricket team on his shoulder with great expectations.
One of the most remarkable changes taking place in India is the expansion of urban, middle class culture and the pace-setting role it has begun to play in the public realm. The changes are not so marked in terms of aggregate data, for instance, the proportion of Indians living in cities has increased by only about 5% in the last 50 years and the data gives no clue to the way the urban middle class culture has begun to dominate the culture of politics today (Nandy 64). Such domination would have been unthinkable two decades ago. Middle class has been an important historical and sociological category in modern India and the idea of India as modern and democratic nation state was imagined and articulated by the emergent middle classes during the later phase of the British colonial rule over the subcontinent. The middle class leadership of the Indian nationalist movement also provided foundational values to the newly independent country after the colonial rule had ended. Over the last two decades, the Indian middle class has been celebrated for its economic achievements in the new global economy. The Indian middle class story witnessed a qualitative shift during the early 1990s with the introduction of economic reforms and an increasing integration of the Indian economy into the global markets. These economic reforms, coupled with the process of globalisation, changed the orientation of the Indian economy quite fundamentally. From a land known for its village republics and agrarian communities, India began to be constructed around its cities and its vibrant and mobile middle classes. Sachin started his cricket career in 1989. In the early 1990, Indian middle class society flourished and globalisation affected the Indian middle class very much (Bose 177). As the middle class developed economically, the electronic market developed with the spread of television and middle class people became ardent fans of the Indian sports icon, Sachin Tendulkar. The number of international cricket matches increased along with the participation of the Indian team in these matches. The 1980’s and 1990’s also witnessed a paradigm shift in the discourses on the Indian middle class. The middle class also needs to be understood in terms of its role in relation to the state, market and the civil society. The middle class in India has played a crucial role in providing leadership to various sections of the Indian society. The middle classes were able to displace the traditional leadership while had to reinvent itself as middle class to stay in positions of influence. Though in proportional terms, the Indian middle classes make less than a quarter of the total Indian population, an important feature of middle class is its internal diversities of income, occupation, caste, community and region.
Sachin remains as a great icon in the field of marketing, even though new faces have arrived recently. Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are becoming main figures in advertisements. But Sachin has been shining in advertisements since 1992. This is because of his acceptance by the wider cross section of society. Today in terms of brand value, he is not matched for the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli. But experts say Tendulkar’s value as a global icon lies in his longevity, which has spanned over generations. Apparently, there will be no immediate impact on Brand Tendulkar, as his manager had taken the retirement clause out of his contracts.
Three months have passed since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from international cricket. Not much water has passed under the bridge since then. So, it is neither too early nor too late to make a sociological study on him. Rather, time is just ripe for such a study that delves into popular psychology to understand the sociological implications of the topic. The biographic sketch gives ample evidence for the fact that Sachin put in a great amount of effort and hard-work to make his way to the top. This resonates with the cult of hard work practiced among the middle-class. The persistent rivalry on the political and communal fronts with Pakistan, which had a bearing on India-Pakistan cricket matches, brought this extreme liking to the level of building the alter-egos. Since Sachin Tendulkar became the match-winner for India, naturally he became the object of alter-egos of millions.
According to Pramod. K. Nayar, “A celebrity is an individual or event that the public watches: someone or something that is recognised by a larger number of people” (4). Sporting celebrities are more easily constructed as they are success personified in a society which craves for success at any cost. Sporting successes are hailed as national triumphs and sports persons become national heroes. Hence, Sachin is a persona recognised and admired by millions as a celebrity who represents them and their feelings, pride, patriotism etc. Indian middleclass has deified him as a superhuman who possesses prowess beyond the usual limits. He is regarded as a godman which destroys all the possibilities of a judicious analysis of his position as a middleclass symbol of eternal glory. Even when a controversy broke out as Sachin tried to evade customs duty to import a luxury car, which was bestowed by a foreign commercial partner or his much dubious stand at the infamous ‘monkeygate’ involving Australia’s Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh,’Indian public rallied behind Sachin as he was infallible. Indian public love to be in illusions that can help them to move away from the stark truths of reality which are hard to confront. Cricket is the ambrosia to them which is perceived as quasi-religious and Sachin is nothing short of an omnipotent deity. Indian middleclass, which fails miserably in their futile attempts to be on par with the standard of life of the rich, finds comfort in pleasures like a Tendulkar century which gives them ample satisfaction which is the result of an illusionary mechanism of the mindscape. Thus, Sachin still remains as a panacea for Indian public’s woeful trysts with destiny, a symbol of inimitable success and a legend that gleams in the annals of the history of a diverse nation.
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The Week, Special issue, “Batsman Forever.” Kottayam: 1 Dec. 2013: 40-43. Print.
Nandy, Ashish. The Savage Freud. New Jersey: Princeton LIP, 1999. Print.
Nalappattu, Abilash. “The Icon”. Frontline, Chennai: Vol 30. 15- 18. Print. Nayar,
Pramod. K. Seeing Stars, Spectacle, Society and Celebrity Culture. New Delhi. Sage. 2009. Print.
Cashmore, Ellis. Celebrity Culture. New York: Routledge. 2006. Print.
SHAHID C.S. Just completed his graduation in English Literature from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam.
HARINARAYANAN S. Is a freelance writer and post graduate in English.