Bollywood, cricket and politics united in a lavish ceremony on Tuesday, June 3, giving a royal salute to 2014 Indian Premier League champions, the Kolkata Knight Riders, and team owners Shahrukh Khan and Juhi Chawla at a crowded Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Amid heightened security cover, the stadium’s green turf was deluged in a sea of purple as nearly 50,000 fans, decked up in sports merchandise, and waiting with bated breath since morning, erupted in joy to get a glimpse of the players flanked by SRK, Juhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
However, the scenes of merriment in the historic ground did not match the chaos outside, as seven sports enthusiasts were injured in stampedes as they clambered over police barricades to gain entry into the arena. While some fell down, others were baton charged by the vastly outnumbered security personnel.
Police denied any cane charging, but claimed six of its personnel were injured. Though entry was made free, passes distributed were far less than the huge demand. Passes were even sold at high prices by blackers.
But the gala affair on a 64×32 foot dais at Eden was nothing short of a major Bollywood event. Confetti rained down across the arena as Banerjee entered the stadium, and King Khan’s arrival after a three-hour delay due to a technical snag in his flight drew tumultuous applause.
Dressed smartly in a white KKR jersey, a ponytailed SRK cut a giant cake – in the shape of a stadium iced with the words KKR – accompanied by Juhi, KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir and Banerjee.
Shahrukh was – as expected – the centre of attraction – as he partied and threw kisses towards the galleries. The Knights flanked by Shahrukh and Juhi paraded the golden trophy for the sports buffs in the stadium, while around 1.5 lakh stood outside, unable to make it inside.
The crowd went wild as Shahrukh, donning a hat, blew kisses, waved and did a few steps of his popular song Lungi Dance atop an elevated podium. An exuberant Juhi walked with the players as KKR’s anthem “Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo” was sung in the background by singer Usha Uthup.
“I don’t think any other state or any other country in the world has this kind of support or love sporting heroes. So thank you Kolkata for supporting us through thick and thin. I thank you on behalf of the team. We will keep up the hard work. We enjoy your claps as well as your admonitions,” said Shahrukh.
Parodying his famous dialogue from the film Don, the icon said in his inimitable style: “Don ko agar koi pakad sakte hain toh woh KKR supporters hain (Only KKR’s supporters can catch the elusive Don).”
The chief minister, who virtually conducted the show, hugged and congratulated SRK fot the team’s stellar performance. “Thank you for the marvellous win,” she said. “We thank Mamata di for being kind to us always. You make it feel as if it is our own house,” SRK returned the compliments, touching Banerjee’s feet and later planting a kiss on her hand.
The splendid affair – jointly organised by the state government, Kolkata Police, Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) – was attended by a number of state ministers, former cricketers and other sports personalities and cultural icons from the state.
Stars from the Bengali film industry, including actors Prosenjit, Soham and actresses Srabonti and June Maliah, upped the glam quotient. A troupe of dhaakis (drummers) and tribal dancers added to the frenzied atmosphere. The crowd soaked in earthy tunes of Bengali folk rock songs by Bangla band Bhoomi as slogans of “Ab Ki Baar KKR” and renditions of team anthem “Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo” reverberated across the arena.
CAB chief Jagmohan Dalmiya felicitated each of the players, in addition to team owners Juhi and husband Jay Mehta. He presented the team with gold rings weighing over 11 grams. This was followed by Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Paurkayastha and celebs handing over mementoes, scarves and trays of Alphonso mangoes to the team.
Apologising to the supporters who could not witness the spectacle, Banerjee announced that in future such an event would be held at the sprawling Brigade Parade Ground – reserved for mega political rallies where lakhs or even millions take part.
By Anurag Dey and Sahana Ghosh | Video: Bombay Times