He oozed charm, spoke with wit and humour, and looked as hunky as he does on screen. They hung on to his every word, clapping gleefully at his smart rhetoric or whenever he pulled the leg of the professor in conversation with him. By the time he was done, Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan (who dislikes the term Bollywood!) had the future managers of IIM Kozhikode roaring for him.
The cheers started with the articulate Bachchan Jr saying he was prone to stage fright. When Prof Rahul Sett asked if he took tips from his famous dad for the stage, he brought the house down saying his dad was worse than him! No, he wasn’t intimidated, but, “I’m anxious as in this hall are some of the brightest minds in the country who will go on to be decision makers,” deadpanned Bachchan. The B-school had invited the celebrity for the second pan-IIM global management conference on ‘globalizing Indian thought’, given his role as a sports entrepreneur.
Fielding first a range of questions on Bollywood, Western and Indian films, the business end of the conversation focused on his role as the owner of kabaddi and football teams. Getting into football, where he owns Chennaiyin FC, was a planned decision.
“I closely follow football and enjoy watching the game. What spurred me on was when I was in Brazil for the World Cup and met with FIFA President Seth Blatter, and he said, it was astonishing that you’re a country of 1.2 billion people and you can’t put a football team on the field. That really p****d me off! There’s no dearth of talent in the country, but there is no system for them to come through.” The main aim of the Indian Super League is to have an Indian team by 2026 in the World Cup finals.
“And, if by 2026 we don’t, we are doing something wrong. But we need to start today,” emphasised Bachchan. The ISL has a mandate to take football to the youth, catch them young and put them through a programme for 10-12 years with the best coaches. “And when they are playing senior football they can represent the country. That is where most of ISL’s work comes in.” His remark that Kerala sees some of the best footballers was met with great applause.
Keeping it native
Bachchan’s foray into kabaddi, he said, was more happenstance. The commentator Charu Sharma invited him to watch a kabaddi match and his first reaction was, “Who plays kabaddi any more?” He was to be surprised as he discovered that Mumbai alone had 1,500 kabaddi clubs. That led to him investing in the Jaipur Pink Panthers in the Pro-Kabaddi League.
“Star TV did a great job of promoting the league. They said the benchmark was 50 million viewers for it to be a hit. At the end of six weeks of the league, they had had 493 million viewers. Kabaddi resonated with the Indian public,” said Bachchan. And, now more investors are coming forward to invest in teams, he adds. It’s an indigenous sport that needs a modern twist, he pointed out, adding that Indian kabaddi has won five world cups on the trot.
It needs 55 nations to play the sport for it to be included in the Olympics. Already 35 nations play kabaddi and Iceland has recently signed into the International Kabaddi Federation, said Bachchan. It is just a matter of time before it gets onto the world stage.
In response to whether he would teach a class at IIM K, the actor said he would rather attend as a student, since Prof Sett had remarked earlier that Indian films were badly planned affairs. “I could learn how best to plan a film,” said Bachchan with a grin.