The Homeboy Natural

MS Dhoni might have come out tops in the celebrity sweepstakes but why does his ordinaryness fascinate us, asks KUNAL MAJUMDER

DAYS BEFORE the state of Jharkhand came under President’s rule in January 2009, chief minister Madhu Koda asked his HRD minister Bandhu Tirkey to shoot a promotional film with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. When told that Dhoni’s schedule was full, the desperate CM asked Tirkey to personally gatecrash the Indian cricket captain’s house with a camera. “Just tell him to look into the camera and say something for the state’s students,” Koda is reported to have told Tirkey. “Nothing except Dhoni will work for Jharkhand!”

Tirkey duly went forth with a cameraman and the campaign was shot in three minutes, and runs till date. In many ways, the episode sums up the curious charms of India’s most easygoing celebrity.

This free and easy reputation has begun to reap high dividends. Dhoni has just been voted India’s top celebrity in a recent survey conducted by Percept Talent Management and Hansa Research, piping Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar. The brand survey evaluated celebrities on parameters like persuasive power, looks, image attributes, popularity and media presence, and included actors, musicians and athletes.

Many conjecture about Dhoni’s appeal as the boynext- door. “He symbolises the perfect Indian,” quips Piyush Pandey, creative head of Ogilvy & Mather India. “A small-town boy who made it big through hard work – it’s the dream for every middle class family in India.” The captain’s empowering ordinariness seems to be key to his appeal, attesting to how the middle class may not be a middling class, after all. Future Brands head Santosh Desai sees Dhoni as embodying the values of an emerging India. “He represents more than the son-of-the-soil tag that Kapil [Dev] carried for years,” he says. “In fact, I would say Dhoni is not held back by any baggage of memory.” Says historian Mukul Kesavan, “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t so popular. He is good looking, aggressive without being hysterical, unflappable. He is successful as the captain of Indian cricket team. He’s the kind of captain Indians always wanted.”

Read the rest in Tehelka issue dated October 24, 2009

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