Outsourcing in Reverse: Cheerleaders in India

Mix of beer, sport and scantily clad Redskins' cheerleaders proves popular.

April 21, 2008 -- M. CHINNASWAMY STADIUM, BANGALORE, India — After the rock concert, after the dancers inside inflatable balls and the girls on the three-foot stilts, after the cheerleaders waving their pompoms and after the laser light show, there was cricket.

But this weekend's debut of the Indian Premiere League, the world's most expensive cricket tournament, was not about the route that the Calcutta Knight Riders took to beat the Bangalore Royal Challengers under the Friday night lights.

It was more spectacle than sport, more evidence of a generation of Indians who have never been richer or hungrier for decadence than it was about the newest version of the second most popular game on the planet.

"It's a rockin' evening already!" Ravi Shastri, one of India's cricket heroes, shouted at the crowd during the $1.5 million pre-game show, which infused a little Indian music with a lot of Western extravaganza. It was one of the single most expensive pieces of entertainment in recent Indian history.

"The cricket is serious. But there's entertainment for the crowd and the TV viewers," Venkat Vardhan, the managing director of DNA Networks and the producer of the pre-game show, told ABC News while waiting in the stands before the game. "There are 250 or 300 million who are exposed to the Western world, of the one billion Indians. For the people who have had the exposure," he said, Western entertainment "is now at their doorstep."

In this case the doorstep was a city best known as the world's center of outsourcing. Bangalore is India's Silicon Valley, the hub of the country's $17 billion outsourcing industry, filled with call centers that employ legions of young Indians who often spend their nights talking to Westerners on the phone.

But the entertainment for the IPL, as the league is known here, was imported in both style and substance — from the concert stage at one end of the field to the luxury boxes filled with Bollywood stars, from the crowd doing to the wave to the beer cups lining the aisles of the stands. And most notably, the group of 11 scantily clad women in yellow boy shorts, rhinestone-studded bikini tops and white go-go boots who waved their pompoms and gyrated their hips for the Bangalore Royal Challengers, a team named after a whiskey.

"We're something they've never seen before. Our style of dance. Our uniforms," 24-year-old Shannon Hickey, a Washington Redskins cheerleader, tells ABC News with a laugh, standing on a platform that lit the women from beneath. "It makes it a lot more exciting. Gets people more interested in the game."

DNA Networks brought the group of Washington Redskins cheerleaders to India to help inaugurate the IPL. They will travel with the Bangalore team but will soon hand over cheering duties to a group of Indians who will become the country's first ever home-grown cheerleading troupe.

That development is, perhaps, just an extension of the Westernization of this city and country.

"People who are educated, exposed and travel, wear Western clothes, do the Western stuff in India, so why is cheerleading different?" asks Vardhan.

But Indian society takes pride in its traditions and takes pride in its clothes, and cheerleading and boy shorts are a challenge to both. Saris and dhotis are as much a part of Indian identity as is the game of cricket itself.

So there is something of a divide on the streets about whether Indian women should embrace an American form of entertainment that has spawned a multi-billion dollar swimsuit calendar industry.

"The dresses which the cheerleaders wear, that does not define our tradition," says Alan Shikoli, a local businessman. "And it's not good for our country."

Around the corner, 18-year-old Anargha Krishnatas walks with her two friends, dressed in a tight tanktop and black jeans. "We'd like to join!" she exclaims when asked about the Indian cheerleading squad. She grew up, she says, watching American music videos. "Whenever we see those American channels, we see those girls dancing — oh we want to do that."

But to portray the divide as one between two generations or two sexes is over simplistic. In conversations with a dozen young Indians in Bangalore, it's clear that they want the entertainment and the liberalization that comes with greater wealth and greater exposure to the west. They also want to maintain their own culture.

"America is kind of spreading all over the world. Everything is getting Americanized. I'm not exactly wearing a dhoti and kurta. I'm wearing jeans and a T-shirt," says 19-year-old Kirit Chatterjee, dressed in Levi's and a yellow striped shirt. He and his girlfriend walk, holding hands, toward a bowling alley. "Everything is getting more Americanized."

But asked if he thinks it's a good thing, he thinks, then shakes his head. "I don't want to appear biased or anything, but I like my country as it is."

Walk down Brigade Road in Bangalore and you'll see the balance India is striking between Western influence and tradition. Twenty-something women walk in groups, shopping, wearing sleeveless shirts. Women wearing saris walk past them. Levi's and Adidas stores line the street. There are pubs all around, but the local government has banned dancing because it was deemed too licentious.

At the game, where tickets were subsidized and went for as low as $2.50 each, the 42,000 fans were in some sense no different than those that fill the Washington Redskins' Fawcett Stadium. They did the wave, they fought in the seats, they drank beer. Lots of it. And they ogled the cheerleaders.

"The Cheerleaders? Oh, they are hot, they are rocking. I want their numbers. Can you do that for me?" quips 21-year-old Goney Kakwani. He and his friends have imitated, screamed at and pretty much stared at the cheerleaders all night. Dozens of empty beer cups sit at their feet.

But challenged as to whether he would want to see Indian cheerleaders dressing like the American cheerleaders, dancing like the American cheerleaders, he sobers up a bit.

"Indians should be Indians. Indian beauty is like — they wear beautiful clothes. They can wear their clothes. They don't have to wear anybody else's clothes."

The Redskins cheerleaders think their Indian counterparts will do just fine, and will be embraced while maintaining their own traditions.

"They're going to bring their own flavor. They're going to have their own kind of dancing," says 29-year-old Klohver Tynes, a lawyer and first-year Redskins cheerleader. "They're going to fit the culture of India. And they're going to do it their own way."