Keralites have often gone that extra mile to redefine the idiom, more loyal than the king. Holding a day-long hartal in protest against the execution of Saddam Hussein was perhaps one such occasion. Football may be a religion in Brazil, but World Cup 2014 has found an equally voluble resonance in Kerala. If merchandising of World Cup accessories is the big thing across the globe, it is all that and more in Kerala, with movie stars being shown the door for a month by the frenzied mobs who have pledged their time and money for footballers they have never seen in their lives. The mania far exceeds any generated by any cricket World Cup so far as schools, colleges and offices are taking a hit in terms of attendance.
Entire villages don the war paint as streets and wards turn battle zones, mostly comprising seas of yellow and blue-and-white stripes. Thus, you find many shops going in for new paint, as do motorbikes and even buses, mostly in the Malabar region. But what sets Kerala apart is the fact that between the 1,000 local bodies, the state would easily sport not less than one lakh flex boards, mostly in Malayalam, with full-blown pictures of the particular teams. At a conservative cost of Rs 1,500 per flex, we are talking about publicity worth `15 crore.
While Brazil and Argentina top the flex board charts, there are quite a few localities that support Germany, Italy, Holland, France, Portugal, Spain, England, even Uruguay and Chile. For example, a flex board in a particular locality that supports Brazil would sing paeans of Neymar and question the ability of Argentina to checkmate him. The counter from across the road screams how Messi is class apart and the nemesis of Brazil. The captions are more often than not of the tongue-in-cheek kind, with a flex supporting Argentina saying “We admit we are arrogant, but then we are coming to land of the vainglorious” while another with a Messi cut-out screams “Why have 11 pups when this one tiger cub is enough”. The taunts and the repartees are countless as they are creative, giving glimpse into the psyche of the quintessential Malayali who still gives warm applause to roadside speeches glorifying the ‘heroic’ Saddam who dared to take on the ‘pompous’ US.
Taking a cue from fruit juice and milk shake exponents from the Malabar region who have created by now trademark products such as Sharjah shake and Saudi shake, Brazuca has unleashed a slew of milk shakes coming in the national colours of competing teams, with Samba shake a clear favourite in Malappuram. A food fest currently on in a renowned hotel in Kozhikode serves Tornado Ronaldo, Fairy Neymar Fish and Messi Pizza. In football crazy Malappuram, enterprising fruit juice parlours have glasses coming in the national colours of popular teams and the concoctions are named after Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney.
Clearly, all this should be an eye-opener for marketing gurus who have forever taken the position that football cannot sell as cricket does in India. But then, Kerala is not India. No brand ambassador can expect to sell the beautiful game in India as Keralites are doing, all by themselves. Because, we are like that only. Wish the Brazilians knew.