‘I scored a few goals.. and I was back in favour. People want results!’ The captain of the Indian football team is on a different field. And this time he’s going to need more than the quicksilver dribbles, 100-metre dashes, lightning strikes or even a goal or two. He’s not worried. He’s working on new moves. As Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa Season 3 goes on the air tonight, here’s Baichung Bhutia getting into step with Roshmila Bhattacharya...
Can you dance as well as you play?
(Chuckles) I can’t dance. The only dancing I’ve done is at nightclubs and it was wild. When I was growing up, I was impressed with Disco Dancer Mithun (Chakraborty) and Rishi Kapoor. As I grew older, my interest in Bollywood jhatkas waned.
So why did you agree to a show like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa?
I had a dream.. to perform at least once on a public platform. It’s difficult, I know. I am a reserved guy and while I can play football in front of a crowd of thousands, it’s hard to groove in front of a select few in a studio. May be with time, it will get easier. At least now I’m learning about rhythm, listening to lyrics, trying to match expression with words and moves.
What’s your wife Madhuri’s reaction to Disco Dancer Baichung?
When the offer came along she was like, “If you want to do it, it’s fine. But it’s not as if you have to do it.” My first reaction too was, “Let’s see.” I took my time before agreeing to do the show.
So will we see your baliye and you as one of the jodis of Nach Baliye Season 5?
(Decisively) That’s not going to happen.
Okay, how about judging a reality show next?
Not if it has anything to do with singing and dancing. It wouldn’t be fair because I’m not qualified to judge someone on something I know little about. But if it has to do with sport, may be. Olympic bronze medallist, Vijendra Singh who was one of the participants dropped out of Jhalak.. because he didn’t want his fans thinking he was getting diverted from boxing. I don’t think that’s a problem I need to worry about as long as my match schedules don’t get disturbed and I get to train three hours a day. My choreographer comes to Kolkata to rehearse.. our practice sessions are fun.
How many hours of practice do you get in a day?
Two to three hours.
And it’s enough?
Yup, it’s not as if I’m going to be making a career in dancing.
What if you win.. become the dancing king?
I don’t think that’s likely. Right now I don’t even know how many episodes I’ll last before I’m voted out. I’m not counting. I’m doing Jhalak.. purely for the experience.
Will it spark off an interest in football?
I hope so. Such shows do make an impact.
What ails Indian football today?
Lack of infrastructure.. the system. Government interest is lacking in most sports.
What does Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo have that Baichung Bhutia doesn’t?
That’s an unfair comparison. Even the top football playing countries like France, Italy and Holland don’t have a Christiano Ronaldo. You get a player like him only once in decades.. there are not enough Ronaldos to go around.
What has been your biggest career high?
Qualifying for the T11.
Are Mohan Bagan and East Bengal clashes still the subject of heated debates in Kolkata?
Well, they’re still the top football teams there, but times have changed. The middle-class is so caught up in everyday struggle that few have the time to come and cheer their favourites on the field. There are so many others forms of entertainment today. Even if its football, they’d rather watch the World Cup or European matches. But Mohan Bagan has had a great season.. we have won two big tournaments. The team is a mix of young blood and experienced seniors. I have a contract with them till 2010 and I’m confident we will continue to play well.
You were one of the few players who after captaining East Bengal switched to the rival team, Mohan Bagan. The move couldn’t have endeared you to your erstwhile fans?
I had a difficult time initially, more so because I wasn’t a local boy. The move didn’t endear me to any side. But then I scored a few goals.. and I was back in favour. People want results!
Does Bengal still produce the best footballers in the country?
It does but footballers like Sunil Chetri are coming up elsewhere too. He’s a Delhi boy who was born in Darjeeling. The north-east has a lot of talent.There are some very promising players like Sanju Pradhan from back home.
Will you be watching IPL Season 2? Rooting for the Knight Riders?
I’ll be watching IPL irrespective of whether the Knight Riders are playing. And in cricket I only root for Team India.
Have you watched any of the earlier episodes of Jhalak...?
A few. The former hockey player, Mir Ranjan Negi, was good.
Does football need a movie like Chak De! India to revive interest in the game?
Well, it’s still one of the most popular games in the country. A movie may not help in the long term but yes, it could generate short term interest in the game. We have had movies on football before.Yeah, the Bengali movie, Dhanni Meye featuring Jaya Bhaduri and Partha Mukherjee.. Prakash Jha’s Hip Hip Hooray.. and more recently, the John Abraham-Arshad Warsi starrer, Dhan Dhana Dhan.. Goal. I saw Goal, good movie.
What’s the next goal for you?
To win the I-league.