Who is Lalit Modi

Lalit Modi, Bollywood millionaire : "We reach every living room"

Mr. Modi, is cricket to the Indians what football means to us?

No, cricket has a completely different meaning for us than, say, football or tennis in Europe. Cricket is the only element that unites everyone in India. It goes across all social classes and cultural values.

On January 26, 1950, 60 years ago, the constitution came into force in India, the country finally became an independent republic, a nation with many cultures, languages, religions, ethnic groups and castes. Does cricket combine these differences?

Cricket has developed somewhat. At some point we found out that social or cultural differences no longer play a role in this sport. Neither with the athletes themselves nor with the fans. It was to the credit of cricket alone that we were able to combine all of these differences. Cricket makes a huge contribution to social cohesion in India. For the first time, the Indians develop a sense of togetherness.

The rigid caste system does not play a role in cricket?

People with different social backgrounds and from different castes are now part of the Indian national team as a matter of course. And that also changes the general perception. It will help to overcome the caste system one day as well. In the past, people from different castes wouldn't even have thought about being in a locker room together, let alone playing in a team. Today that is no longer an issue. Cricket is about cohesion, not difference.

Officially, hockey is still the Indian national sport ...

In fact, hockey is our national sport, although that no longer corresponds to reality. India is caught in cricket fever. Over the past few years, many have been inspired by cricket because they have noticed how successful our national team is in international comparison.

A billion Indians define themselves through cricket?

Cricket is as popular here as soccer in Brazil and Europe or American football in the USA. The turning point was the 1996 World Cup. We won it - and suddenly the whole world was looking at us. Before that, we were never noticed in terms of sport. We don't play a role in the Olympic Games. That is not exactly exemplary for our offspring.

But cricket is first and foremost a British sport.

That's right, but India has managed to continuously improve in cricket and even become world champions. We made cricket our sport. There is no other sport with us that comes close to this status.

What status do cricket stars have in society and what do they do for social cohesion?

In fact, our cricket stars are worshiped almost like demigods. With the increasing professionalization of the sport and the accompanying broadcast on television, cricket has even managed to overtake Bollywood. This may also be because cricket doesn't even need a language to be understood by everyone. That is why cricket is reaching every living room in this country.

They exaggerate.

Not at all. There is something unifying about cricket that everyone understands equally. Think of our hostility to Pakistan, which we were able to overcome through cricket. We had friendly matches with our neighbors and that eventually led to our mutual reservations. Eventually friendships and a sporting spirit developed, which shows that this resentment did not come from people but existed between systems. Cricket has helped ease this mutual tension. That's wonderful.

Are cricketers good as role models?

The majority of cricketers come from very humble backgrounds. One has a father who is a mechanic, the other is a plumber. Many people in the country can identify with this. They had nothing and, thanks to their talent, discipline and passion for the sport, managed to become what they are today.

If you ask children in India today what they want to be one day, many answer: a cricket star.

In the past, cricket was nothing like a profession or a career. It was just a game, a sport that you played in your free time. Today young people are obsessed with one day becoming a professional in cricket. They look to their role models, who came out of nowhere and now make $ 20 million a year and are revered by society.

What else do you need besides talent to make it to the top in cricket?

Cricket is a game that demands a lot of discipline from the players. Talent alone is not enough. It takes a lot of patience. Above all, it is a team sport, egoists hardly have a chance.

Anyone walking around Mumbai will see someone playing cricket in every open spot. And by no means just boys and men.

Cricket was originally a purely male sport. That has completely changed. Lately women have also discovered cricket, not only on television but also in face-to-face play.

What you are not entirely innocent of ...

We have only brought two mass phenomena of India together: Bollywood and cricket. You could also say we married her (laughs). We have loosened up the environment so that women feel comfortable with this sport, a little more show and entertainment on the fringes and not just sweat and exertion. That brings a completely new target group into play.

Surely there are many men for whom it is not at all right when women also penetrate their last domain.

I don't mind myself. The time for it was ripe. It's fantastic when a sport also contributes to equality between men and women. There are many social values ‚Äč‚Äčthat you can learn there. It is important that this finally happened and I am glad that it did.

You are committed to making cricket internationally known. How do you want to hold your own against football in this country?

With our new version of cricket, where the game is limited to just three hours. For that I got a lot of headwind at the beginning. The criticism was devastating. But our success confirms that this is the right path. People flock to the stadiums, we have fantastic ratings. I don't think that a game that lasts a full day or even spans five days would be attractive to western audiences. But if we limit it to three hours, with the right entertainment, music and dancing, it should also be interesting for western countries.

Interview conducted by Alicia Rust.
Lalit Modi, 46, established cricket in India as the leader of the league. In addition, the major entrepreneur in the film and tobacco industry is involved in the production of Bollywood films.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page