Bollywood Comes to Tampa With Indian Film Awards

By: Carlos Harrison

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And the winner is ... Tampa!

The city by the bay will be rolling out the green carpet (yep, green; not red) for the “Bollywood Oscars” next June.

It’s the first time the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards —four days of parties, music, movie premieres, workshops, exhibitions, forums and celebrity events – will be held in the United States.

With an estimated worldwide TV audience of some 800 million viewers in more than 110 countries, organizers said, the event will earn Tampa a starring role on the international stage and attract tens of thousands of visitors from an attractive new tourism market.

“It is much bigger than the Super Bowl in terms of the viewership, the revenue, the PR value,” said Chetan “Jason” Shah, a Lutz real estate agent who spearheaded the effort to bring the festival.

Tampa beat out Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco for the honor, as well as Melbourne, Australia; Dubai; and London, Shah said.

Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls and, in 2012, served as the venue for the Republican National Convention. IIFA gives it significantly broader exposure, and gives Indian film-lovers a chance to get close to their silver screen idols.

“This puts Tampa on a sort of global map,” said Shephali Rele, associate editor of Khaas Baat, a Tampa-based newspaper for Indian-Americans in Florida. “People are excited ...You will see people, thousands at least, trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie star, just like when there’s major award shows in Hollywood.”

In all, Shah said, the event organizers plan to put on 32 events leading up to the awards weekend, which will be the 15th annual celebration of the ceremony. The event moves to a different country each year and, in the past, has been held in London, Johannesburg, Toronto, Amsterdam and Bangkok.

Shah joined a delegation of government representatives and private supporters from Tampa Bay's Indian community who traveled to Macau, People’s Republic of China, to be on hand for the announcement of the site selection at the close of this year’s IIFA gala.

“We take a stage on the international podium both in the area of arts and entertainment and in the area of business and economic development,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who made the trip as well.  

Supporters say previous IIFA weekends have generated some 24,000 hotel room nights and poured $18 million or more into the local economy. IIFA’s organizers expect next year’s event to bring 50,000 visitors to the Tampa Bay area and boost tourist business by 25 percent.

Local officials said the lasting impact of the international attention is even greater.

 “Much like Super Bowls and national political conventions place Tampa in the national spotlight, this event will place unprecedented international attention on Tampa Bay,” Santiago Corrada, President & CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in an email. “With our experience hosting events of all sizes, we are confident that this global event will help Tampa to take its rightful place amongst well-known and highly visited international destinations.”

That experience, and the enthusiastic cooperation of Tampa Bay’s Indian-American community of more than 23,500, played a major part in IIFA’s decision.

“IIFA has been known to take Indian Cinema on a global journey and we are excited to make our U.S. debut,” Andre Timmins, director of the entertainment company behind IIFA, said in a statement. “We chose Tampa Bay for the infrastructure, strong Asian community and the immense support we have received.”

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