DUBAI // The Bollywood actor Salman Khan admitted last night that he and other Indian film stars risked facing a backlash from right-wingers in Mumbai by playing a friendly cricket match against a team of Pakistani celebrities at Dubai Sports City.
Thousands of fans, mostly Indian and Pakistani, from several emirates attended to cheer on their individual country's most famous celebrities in a light-hearted 15-overs-a-side match, between the rivals which, said the organisers, took more than two years to arrange. More than 40 celebrities, including actors, singers, TV hosts and models, were flown in from South Asian countries to the UAE. Because of tensions between the two countries, Mr Khan said the Indian team could face problems when they return home for taking part in an event with Pakistan.
"We might get hammered when we go back to Mumbai," said Mr Khan, 43. "But that is the chance we have taken. They might take it up with us, but we, as India and Pakistan have to show, are together. To us, it's not an eye for an eye. We are trying to make things more easy and more comfortable for both sides." Tickets for the game cost from Dh35 to Dh175 and the match was aimed at raising awareness for Salman Khan's charity, Being Human, though none of the proceeds will reach the new organisation. Indian law states a charity must be running for more than three years before it can accept donations. The foundation is also not registered in Dubai, making it illegal to raise funds here.
However, Haider Ali Mirza, the managing director of the organisers, Cynosure, said some money would go to the Dubai Autism Centre, a charity partner, but would not say how much. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dirhams the company made from ticket sales, it also made close to Dh300,000 from a Gala dinner tonight, where some of the players will take part in a fashion and music show. Tickets were priced at Dh1,000.
Faiza Khan, the business development manager for Cynosure, said the company had spent at least Dh3million on the event. Salman Khan, whose most recent film was Veer, in which he played the brother of a rebel against British rule, did not play in the end. However his bother, Sohail Khan, took his place as the Indian captain. He faced a tough challenge as the Pakistani captain was one of the world's best fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar. Salman Khan's other brother, Bollywood actor Arbaaz, also played. "Pakistan might be better players, but we can act better," quipped Sohail Khan.
Shoaib Malik, the Pakistani cricketer who married the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza last month, also put in an appearance - for the Indian team. Sharman Joshi was among the other celebrities who turned out. The fast bowler Shoaib, nicknamed the "Rawalpindi Express", said: "I am here purely here for the Being Human cause, just for Salman. I will give any day of my life to Salman, my brother, and his family. He is trying to get India and Pakistan closer together. Let's all go for that."
Pakistan has not been allowed to play any international cricket on its home soil since the March 2009 Sri Lankan terrorist attack, and the UAE has become its second home, even when it comes to celebrity matches. "It's great to bring Pakistan and India together here," said Saud Qasmi, a Pakistani actor. "Dubai is a very neutral place so this is the best way to forget everything and party. Let's walk together."
As the teams entered the stadium the crowd waved flags and screamed for their favourites. "It's good to play against India. The patriotism comes into play and the atmosphere is good," said Hassan Javed, 22, from Lahore who studies in Dubai. "I'm here for entertainment. It's exciting for me, especially because Salman Khan is here," said Pakistani national Sumbal Bilal, who works as a banker in Dubai.
Riya Sen, a 29-year-old actress, said the match may go some way in improving the countries' troubled relationship. "Sometimes a small thing can make a huge difference," she said. "This gets people together, and not only can this bridge a gap but it's also lots of fun." The Indian team won the cricket match. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org