Sexy, savvy and smart, she is one of India’s best-known Bollywood divas. She is also co-owner of one of the two teams that has won an IPL crown. On the eve of the Rajasthan Royals’ opening clash with the Mumbai Indians, the newly married Shilpa Shetty opened up on life on the tour, her maverick skipper Shane Warne and lots more in an exclusive, freewheeling chat. Excerpts.
Can we expect you cheering on the Royals’ at all their games?
Absolutely. I keep my diary free for a month and am not doing that much work. I have just finished an Indo-Chinese movie and am doing something very interesting after the IPL but when it comes to the IPL, it’s my baby, something I am extremely passionate about. Forget the fact that we have invested money, I really love the game and can’t wait to go to the stadium tomorrow. I don’t know about the result as we are playing against the Mumbai Indians in Mumbai, but I hope we will start on a winning note.
The concept of a home and away jersey… sounds innovative, but do you like it?
(Chuckles) Frankly, I liked the previous one (team jersey). But there are certain changes that we had to make because everyone was making changes. The home and away thing is a new concept and it will probably take some time to catch up. I really think that we at the Royals like to do things that are more internationally acceptable, and, that’s why we are even trying for a dynamic association with teams from all over the world. I know it’s kind of a continuity jerk, but the Knight Riders also have a complete changeover in terms of colour. I hope it bodes well for our sponsors and the team as well.
How has Shilpa Shetty as a Bollywood diva added value to the Royals?
The brand equity of the team has definitely gone up with my involvement with the franchise. But at the end of it all it is cricket, which is the center of attraction. Obviously, to garner that added interest and intrigue to a team you need somebody who becomes the spokesperson and I am fortunately playing that role for the Royals. In the first season, there was no body to represent the Royals and they lost out on a lot of PR. I think the difference was pretty visible, the kind of attention that the Royals got after Raj (Kundra) and I came on board. And I think that goes with any team that has an actor as a co-owner. But it’s not just about being a brand ambassador. With time, the involvement with team increases and it culminates into the feeling of being in one big family. The Royals have always been a no-frills-attached team. With my entry the perception has changed since last year, which is a good thing.
It is said that Shah Rukh Khan peps his team up with motivational smses. How do communicate with players?
I don’t interfere in the daily nitty-gritty of the team. I look after the marketing aspect. I think we have got people who handle that job exceptionally well in the Royals. In all humility, I am not in a position to advice people on cricket. I don’t know that much about the game except that I love my team and love watching cricket.
I was recently in Jaipur when the final team was being picked. And though we gave our inputs, the final call was Shane’s. And Warnie has assured me that this is the best squad in terms of form. That is some kind of an assurance for us owners because he knows best and he is involved in the day-today running of things when it comes to the teams.
You were the first franchise-owner to speak out after the IPL auction fiasco…
See, at the end of the day, we as a franchise are doing business and no one has the right to question us. I just felt the entire focus shifted away from cricket and IPL and the press became pro-Pakistani. I think you have to credit me because I was the only owner who came upfront and spoke about it. I didn’t understand which side the press was really on, whether they really wanted the Pakistanis to play or they didn’t want them to play. See today there is no talk about Pakistani cricketers because they (Pakistan cricket) obviously have run into a lot of trouble themselves. Half of them have been banned from playing matches. So each thing unravels in itself.
The Rajasthan Royals are the cheapest team in the IPL. Have you seen any profit so far?
When you talk about us being the cheapest team, automatically, the profits that we look at are much higher, in terms of revenue making. Because we have paid the least on the books, I think it’s extremely profitable for us. And as co-owners, Raj and I have paid much more to be part of the Royals. But I think we take it as a compliment because after we came onboard, we not only increased the valuation of our team, but also the sport. We have already made money on the books as co-owners. I think the Royals have done pretty well financially this year and we are a well-marketed team.
Ten teams, 94 matches…Do you think IPL-IV could prove an overkill of T20?
I don’t think so. T20 is an extremely popular format in this country and there will be that added interest about those two new teams coming in. People would want to see what they are worth—if they are really worth their salt. The matches will definitely increase with the new teams and with the warm welcome the IPL enjoys in India I don’t think it will affect the image of the tournament in terms of viewership and quality of cricket.
Have you taken any decision whether to retain the core group of the squad in IPL-IV? Eyeing Sachin Tendulkar maybe?
(Laughs) I am dying to answer this question, but there is a policy that we can’t discuss franchise plans and strategies. We are very closely attached to the team and the Royals are one big family. So, we only want the best for our team. And If I were the owner of Mumbai Indians I would make sure that I don’t let go of him. I hope he plays left-handed against us tomorrow (laughs). He is simply an iconic player.
Describe Shane Warne in one word
Pragmatic. I remember we were in South Africa and we had lost the previous game. The next match was crucial and just before the start I went and asked Shane, “What now?” He simply said in his thick Australian accent, “Just pray for rain.” It is fantastic how he fought back last year despite the absence of some of our key players. There was no Shane Watson, Shaun Tait and some of the Pakistani players. We had a whole lot of issues, but despite all negatives he still managed to fight on. He is an extremely dedicated player and the Royals’ success is definitely for him.
Shilpa’s top picks (Daredevils, you’re not cool enough!)
Brendon McCullum (KKR): I loved the way he handled the Knight Riders last year despite the fact that they were defeated nine times in a row. The confidence and the patience he had shown with the players, and the serene look on his face, made me respect him. He always wore a smile.
Shane Warne (RR): Shane Warne never loses his temper on the field. I think that comes from the fact that he is a very good poker player. We have implicit faith in how he brings the team together. And, he is a very strict captain.
Adam Gilchrist (DC): I think to pull a team from the bottom of the table to the top requires focus and patience, which Gilly showed in IPL-II. He is extremely kind, chivalrous and well spoken. I think the whole blend makes him a great player and person.
Anil Kumble (RCB): I think the Royal Challengers climbed up the ladder last year only because of Anil Kumble. I really think he has the foresight that makes him prepare for a situation. I think captains are the frontrunners in true sense of the word. Hats off to Jumbo.
Sachin Tendulkar (MI): He truly is a class act. For the sheer fact that he makes me proud as an Indian, I would stand up and clap for him even though he belongs to some other team. My heart swells with pride when I see Sachin come on the field.
MS Dhoni (CSK): Who doesn’t love Dhoni? He has a lot of panache and is a great player — a lethal combination. He is again one of those people who rarely lose their temper on the field. He has carved a niche for himself and is rightly the heartthrob of young girls.
Sourav Ganguly (KKR): Sourav doesn’t need my reiteration of him as a good player. He has been there, done that. I am happy he is back as the captain of the Knight Riders. He has a huge fan following and I really wish him the best.