Kolkata: Reflecting the grandeur and exuberance of Indian festivities, the glitzy and technologically stunning opening gala of the eighth Indian Premier League (IPL) saw blockbuster Bollywood match steps with international cricket camaraderie amid a replay of magical moments of the previous editions of the tournament.
However, there were also hiccups aplenty.
A lacklustre emcee in Saif Ali Khan, a few non-functional LED lights, Shahid Kapoor almost taking a tumble and Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma stepping on a light were the low points.
But Shahid’s overall performance and Hrithik Roshan’s emotional but fiery closing act spared the blushes during the two-hour ceremony held before a sparse 15,000 crowd at the Salt Lake stadium.
The first dampener came early in the evening in the form of heavy thundershowers that pushed back the ceremony by one and a half hours, but the crowd stuck to their seats waiting for the star acts.
As the audience waited for the star performers — Hrithik, Anushka Sharma and Shahid — to fire up the show, captains of the seven of the eight teams took the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Spirit of Cricket pledge by signing a bat.
In the cool night air, Hrithik’s fiery act against the backdrop of dazzling strobing lights and psychedelic floor projections stole the show.
The actor, who had his maiden live act after his stellar debut in “Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai” at the very same venue, made sure the Kolkata crowd got to see his best moves in his second show here.
His emotional but electrifying performance mirrored the euphoria that the masses have with regards to the IPL.
Earlier, the show got going amid a pitch black set, as dancers attired in traditional Bengali white and red sarees and holding clay lamps tore through the darkness.
An aura of serenity prevailed as composer Pritam led a choral tribute to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in an operatic rendition of his famed song “Anandaloke Mangalaloke”.
The graceful choreography was suitably balanced with an interlude of Swahili which whetted spectators appetite for more action.
They whistled, cheered and clapped thunderously as the suave Saif Ali Khan introduced the captains of the eight teams to the sounds of their team’s anthems.
The loudest cheers went up for Chennai Super Kings skipper M.S. Dhoni.
When defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders’ leading man Gautam Gambhir came in holding aloft the champions’ trophy, they went wild.
Gambhir put the trophy back in play, in a symbolic gesture that set the ball rolling for the one-and-a-half-month competition on the 22-yard strip.
A synergy of peppy modern sounds, rhythms of traditional Bengali instruments including the dhaak (drum) and strong acoustics gave a feel of world music and calm.
Shahid’s grand arrival on the grounds in a bright orange sleeveless shirt and shiny golden dhoti with a trendy pair of shades, atop a bike jolted the audience back into the promised “unforgettable” jamboree.
His shout to the crowd in Bengali “Kemon acho Kolkata” (how are you Kolkata?) was followed by his ride around the turf as the speakers sounded Bappi Lahiri’s cult disco-pop number “I am a Disco Dancer” kickstarting the ‘India ka Tyohaar’ (festival of India.
Shahid’s near-tumble as he blazed off into his dance act was aptly camouflaged with his killer Bollywood jhatkas and matkas peppered with hip-hop’s pops and locks to the heady beats of “Gandi Baat”, “Saree Ka Fall” and “Dhating Naach”.
In between the live acts, compere Saif made the audience participate in polls on their favourite IPL stars while the floor projections changed and the multi-hued light beams roved on the crowd.
The team captains then signed a bat affirming their pledge to the MCC’s spirit of cricket campaign.
As Virat Kohli looked on eagerly, his beau and “NH 10” actress Anushka Sharma put up a captivating display of elegance with typical Bollywood moves on “PK” tracks, “Jiya Re”, “Mundiya Nu” and “Jasba”.
Clad in a black-white jumpsuit, her flawless steps had a classic appeal though she looked a bit nervous.
Bollywood melted into rock as the multi-talented Farhan Akhtar took to the stage with his band and pumped up the arena.
Starting off with a poem from “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” to the accompaniment of cricket visuals, Farhan and his band, dressed in casuals, took the stage for eight minutes in a neat rock ensemble, strumming up some of his hits including “Rock On”, “Sindbad the Sailor” and “Senorita”.
In contrast, Saif’s hosting was rather lacklustre and flat.
After what seemed to be an agonising wait, a visibly happy Hrithik got the show back on track with some of his signature steps from his the superhit “Ek Pal Ka Jeena” from his debut film “Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai”.
Sealing his Kolkata connect, the star, who met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the day, danced draped in a golden uttarya (stole) gifted by Banerjee. His greetings to the audience in Bengali elicited loud cheers and shouts.
The show concluded with fireworks as the stars united on stage and officially signalled the start of the series.