Katrina Kaif performs during the Pepsi Indian Premier League opening ceremony at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. (PTI Photo)
This was east of Eden but trust Shah Rukh Khan to create his own paradise away from one of cricket’s most famous cathedrals.
Into its third decade, the Salt Lake stadium has had some tryst with fame. It has hosted football legends Zico, Diego Maradona, Oliver Kahn and it was here that Lionel Messi became Argentina’s full-time captain. And almost every time Mohun Bagan and East Bengal line up, it becomes a teeming, heaving cauldron of 100,000. Even on this extremely muggy Tuesday when the stadium gave Kolkata Knight Riders a rousing welcome as they entered the hospitality box and stood on the seats as the Indian Premier League team captains walked in, an East Bengal flag fluttered proudly.
But even though this was as removed from football as Rabindranath Tagore is from Pitbull and Katrina Kaif from method acting, never before had the stadium become such a theatre of dreams.
One as hectic as a T20 game. One where the night mostly was a deep shade of blue and the surreal was, well, the real. For two hours, drummers defied gravity, people walked on stilts and others danced to a version of Aaguner Poroshmoni much peppier than what Tagore had intentioned. And one where the Indian Premier League trophy came to Gautam Gambhir couriered by an acrobat strung from balloons and doing head-stands in air like it is the most normal thing before an audience of 60,000, maybe more. Gambhir rarely gives much away in public but you could tell he was more surprised than he would be by Dale Steyn's chin music.
To the chants of KKR that split the night, Gambhir signed his name pledging fair play. Kolkata showed its sense of fair play by greeting Ricky Ponting with the applause deserving of one of the game's greatest.
Bollywood then took over, Deepika Padukone first before Katrina, elastic hips and all, kept asking the world what her name was before giving it away.
At 8.15pm, 45 minutes into the opening ceremony, Shah Rukh entered to the music of "Don" remade and unleashed a charm offensive that has audiences drooling from Munich to Marrakesh, Delhi to Durban. By the time his medley ended, they were bouncing on the chairs, in the terraces and everywhere else.
Between disparate strands of popular culture, Shah Rukh was the common denominator. His recorded recitation of “Where the mind is without fear” was part of the opening act albeit drowned by drums. It was his leading ladies that set the stage for him and he introduced Pitbull to the fans.
To all those who before this evening thought Pitbull was just a canine breed, the white rapper’s show was an education. To those otherwise enlightened, watching their American idol in flesh was a dream come true; his staccato, fast-talking show worth preserving in their smart phones. That Kolkata isn't used to this —from Bryan Adams, the Rolling Stones to Mark Knopfler, the city has been by-passed by pop stars — made the evening more special for those who swear by this kind of music.