What is the common thread that connects these three? It is a 5 ft 5 in man, aged 40 – the legend, the ‘God’ of a cricket-frenzied nation, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. And now, this ‘God’ must decide if he wants to drink Coca Cola or not; in the public eye, of course.
Sachin dominated the pitch for more than two decades and then finally, after much observation and adulation, decided to retire at the age of 40. Adored by fans, loved by his fellow team-mates, this seemingly shy, soft-spoken man had some of the biggest brands in his kitty. He was recently also conferred the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, for his exceptional abilities on the field, becoming India’s youngest recipient of the award. He must have been looking forward to a good life – driving a BMW, sporting an Adidas jacket, sipping some Coke, or maybe even Boost, taking pictures on his Canon, using his Visa credit card. And then one morning, voila! Twitter happened.
Right after he was conferred the Bharat Ratna, a very strategic move to ride high on the emotions of a Sachin-struck nation, as some might say, a soft disgruntled murmur was started on Twitter, which gained full throttle within no time when some people started strongly objecting to his brand endorsements. Why would the brightest star of the nation endorse a brand like Luminous? Why should the hero of the nation urge people to use a credit card, or drink Coca Cola? And why should Sachin, a symbol of goodness and national admiration, be suddenly questioned? Why? Why? Why? The nation, definitely, demands an answer to this.
The Bharat Ratna is a symbol of excellence, sincerity, pride and exceptional attitude. For Sachin, it certainly symbolises gratitude for the Master Blaster. The 41 who received the award before Sachin got it at much later stages in life or posthumously. As a recipient, Sachin, who has just embarked on his second innings post retirement, must live up to the exemplary persona – a by-product of his being a ‘Ratna’. His each and every move will now be under public scrutiny.
Sachin is making attempts to live up to that godly stature. Within two weeks of being conferred the Bharat Ratna, he was appointed the brand ambassador for UNICEF. Though he has been associated with the UN body for 8-10 years now, the move to make him its face is very subtle and noteworthy. He will now voice concerns regarding sanitation, hygiene, and so on, in the South Asia region for the next two years. The re-branding of Sachin has to be fast and furious. The youth of the nation is waiting. The watchdogs are on vigil.
So, what will Sachin do now? Well, this is his chance to redeem himself for all the colas he sold, all the credit card dreams he incepted, the life insurance policies he vouched for, energy drinks he’s had and the biscuit brands he’s lent his back to. The man who always let his bat do most of the talking, can now recast himself into the quintessential ‘Good Man’, who can do no wrong and strongly voice opinions regarding matters of national importance. Sachin, who has earned millions on and off-field as a commercial cricketer (remember IPL?) and brand endorser, must kiss all of it away. Endorsing social causes such as anti-smoking, anti-corruption, anti-this and that, this Rajya Sabha member must secretly take an oath not to drink anything black and be fully immersed in his ‘larger-than-life’ persona. Notwithstanding the “It’s your life, make it large” connotations, Sachin must rise above the average and play this game with panache.
The question is – how can someone like Sachin Tendulkar shed his image of popularity, brand endorser, cricketer, cola-seller and be someone who can never fail, someone who is above the realistic sense of success and goodness?
As the Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times”, the new era for Sachin will be testing, and it will be interesting to see what he makes of it. Can he maintain the equilibrium that makes him the great legend that he is, with his image intact? Will a careful selection of exclusive government endorsements earn him respect and shut the vigilante clan up? Will he be able to resist the ‘forbidden fruit’ of corporate endorsements and leverage his award in a rightful manner? Will the citizens of the country who have worshiped him, accept him in his new avatar? It will be quite absurd to see this godly figure cruising away in his chariot (read BMW), selling inverters and batteries and travel coupons.
As for me, I think Sachin is just a victim of fandom that is both desirable and detestable at times. The last time something like that happened, they called him “Christ” and there was no looking back. Well, by Sachin’s own admission, he wanted to be “regarded as one of the best and the idea was that when I stopped playing, people would remember my name”, and he has got all that most mere mortals only dream about, minus the controversies that dog most great men. Will the Bharat Ratna at last bring him to the genre of other great men?