It’s Deepavali eve and Abhishek Bachchan’s hotel suite resembles a grand wedding in progress what with his entourage scurrying around to ensure that things are in order. It isn’t hard to understand why, for, in two hours time, the first ‘home’ match of Chennayin FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament would kick off with much fanfare.
Abhishek, the team’s co-owner, is doing a slew of interviews, but as he sits down to chat with us, the tedium that comes with repeating himself is thankfully absent. Instead, he’s at his witty, exuberant best, even feigning anger when a journalist gets the team’s tagline wrong: “Hey, it’s ‘Podu Machi Goalu.”
Speaking about his involvement in the business of sport – he also owns the Jaipur Pink Panthers team in the Pro Kabaddi league – the 38-year-old actor traces it back to his formative years. “I was involved in basketball, athletics, and skiing in school. I was always keen on being involved in sports, and not just as a fan. With Pro Kabaddi, we were making a difference not only to the lives of the sportsmen but also giving the sport a complete makeover.”
On choosing football and kabaddi, Abhishek talks about a conscious decision to be involved in sports he could help grow.
He also tells us how the grassroots-development programme, mandated by the ISL, has had celebrity team-owners bonding together and pooling in their ideas. “People like Ranbir (Kapoor), Sourav (Ganguly), Sachin (Tendulkar), and John (Abraham) are football-literate. John was the captain of my school team, while Ranbir is someone I play football with every Sunday. We discuss how things need to be done. The grassroots programme is not just about individual teams, it’s about India.”
Abhishek feels Chennai not being a football bastion, unlike Goa or Kolkata, is what motivates him. “Fans here are passionate about all sports. The ATP tennis tournament happens here and it’s sold out. The city hasn’t had the opportunity to have other sports here. We brought football and look how wonderful the response has been!”
The Happy New Year star doesn’t intend to cross-promote his film with the ISL. “But, I have told Shah Rukh and the team they are always welcome to come down and do Lungi dance with us,” he laughs.
The support from wife Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan and father Amitabh has been “terrific,” says Abhishek, adding that his little daughter, Aaradhya, will be at the stadium for one of the matches. “She is not a troublesome kid. My daughter, after all,” he laughs.
As for finding time to juggle his film-career with sporting interests, he breaks into a grin: “There are 24 hours in a day, man. Sleep is for the weak.”