Bollywood Awards Light Up Tampa

By: Saundra Amrhein

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Bollywood glitz met Hollywood glamour at the 15th Annual International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards April 23-26 in Tampa. It was the first time the IIFA extravaganza, known to fans as the Bollywood Oscars, was held in the United States.

It was expected to draw 30,000 local visitors and $11 million to the Tampa Bay area. An Indian TV crew was on hand to document Bollywood stars exploring the Tampa Bay area and to capture the awards show April 26 in Raymond James Stadium for a special, titled 'Weekend with IIFA,' to be broadcast worldwide June 8 on the Star World Network and is expected to draw 800 million viewers in 110 countries.

During the four days of events, Bollywood stars spent time cycling, speedboating, paddleboarding, shopping and generally enjoying the Tampa Bay area. Stage and screen star Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards," "American Beauty") conducted a master class on acting and then donned a lungi (sarong) to dance to a song from the movie "Chennai Express" at the awards spectacular. Hollywood icon John Travolta held forth on his love for Bollywood films at a press conference before accepting a career achievement award and performing his famous dance moves from "Pulp Fiction" at the awards show.

And it all ended with a big, beautiful bang of color, music, dance and drama in Raymond James Stadium. Visit the IIFA website to find a list of awards winners and other information about the Weekend and Awards.

Here's a look at some of the moments and images captured during the colorful whirlwind of IIFA events:


Picture Perfect

The name chanting -- and screaming -- reached fever pitch among the crowd outside as actor Hrithik Roshan arrived and greeted fans along the barricades.

Sameep Sheth, 30, of New York, made his way to the front of the barricade with his smart phone camera as his girlfriend stood behind the crowd atop barrels to get a better shot.

Having just arrived the night before, he was impressed with what he has had a chance to see of the area.

"So far I like this place. It's lovely," he said. "I might stay a day or two just to enjoy the city."


Risk and Reward

The hopes and prayers of Tampa cardiologist Dr. Kiran Patel appeared to be answered: The large risk of holding the IIFA awards in the open-air Raymond James Stadium was met with flawless weather all week -- blue skies, warm days and pleasant evenings -- right into the main event itself Saturday night.

"God is with us," Patel, the major private backer and key reason IIFA wound up in Tampa this year, said this week as it became obvious the weather would be great all the way through Sunday.

Saturday evening, as fans made their way into the stadium and a sizable holdout crowd held out to see the remainder of arriving stars, a cool breeze stirred on the heels of a cloudless sunny day where highs were in the 80s.

In his life Patel said he has always been a risk taker. "It's really hard for someone to move me from my path if I believe in that," he said.

"Distractions always come, challenges always come," he said. "But when you have perseverance, this is the result you get. I always believed this project would be a success."


Winners All

As the sun began to sink below the tree lines, the waiting crowd outside Raymond James Stadium screamed with excitement as large SUVs and vans arrived with the IIFA stars.

Many women in the crowd wore colorful saris and gowns. One small group had ordered a pizza.

And one family yelled and hugged each other from opposite sides of barricades – only one group of cousins had passes for the green carpet.

"They are the celebrities," joked Piyush Patel, who lives in Tampa area and who has cousins, aunts and uncles visiting from Wisconsin and Houston.

Patel, in attendance with his wife and children, said he had never seen downtown Tampa so alive as it has been this week.

Patel, who moved here 25 years ago from India, added that though he loves Indian movies he wasn't into the hubbub until he saw the liveliness of the city and festivities.

Cousin Dina Patel, visiting from Houston, said she loved going to Clearwater Beach and the Hard Rock cafe and casino between IIFA events.

"It has been a very pleasant experience," she said.


All the Right Moves


About 30 students at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School of the Arts in Tampa got to show off a dance number to their muse -- a routine they'd learned months before knowing the international star would be visiting them.

Bollywood performer Madhuri Dixit got a preview of the students' talent during her Friday visit to the school on the eve of their big moment as part of Saturday's opening performance at Raymond James Stadium.

The students learned their choreography back in September as part of another event, turning to YouTube videos of Dixit for inspiration.

Their director, Shana Donahue Perkins, later invited the IIFA producers to the school to have the students audition once she learned the awards were coming to town.

"We did that dance not ever knowing she would be here," Donahue Perkins said of Dixit.

"Oh my goodness, you guys are phenomenal!" Dixit told them after they danced for her wearing billowy sky-blue pants and halter tops with embroidered gold medallions.

Marie Ulysse, one of several parents standing to the side, said all the months of practice and hard work by son Gabriel Mannheimer and his classmates were paying off.

"It's all worth it," Ulysse said.

Gabriel said he and his classmates have traveled throughout the country and performed in front of large audiences before. But never 800 million people.

"Sometimes you just go with the dance," he said after Dixit left the classroom following words of encouragement. "You don't want to psyche yourself out."


Penguins, Mermaids and Causes

Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, with his first nomination for best actor in a negative role at the International Indian Film Academy, joined other visitors Friday afternoon on a visit to the Florida Aquarium, where he met Cliff the African back-footed penguin and spied sharks, stingrays and a mermaid.

As Oberoi was wired with a microphone by an Indian TV station, a little girl, oblivious to the movie star in front of her, saw Cliff.

"Awwww!!!" she said. She moved behind Oberoi, making a beeline for Cliff the penguin.

"Sorry, are we in the way?" her mom said, scurrying after her.

Elena Lamar, associate curator in husbandry, brought Cliff over to meet Oberoi, who was dressed stylishly in a white sport jacket, pink shirt, faded blue jeans and brown loafers.

Seated before a huge tank as a barracuda, a sand-tiger shark and permit fish swam behind him, Oberoi met Cliff, who rested on Lamar's lap, and talked with Lamar about the aquarium's and his own efforts in conservation for endangered wildlife -- which includes Cliff.

He noted that Cliff was perfectly prepared for the IIFA awards in Tampa.

"Maybe we could borrow his tuxedo," he joked. "All he's missing is a bow tie."

Then they moved onto the 500,000-gallon saltwater corral reef tank, where Oberoi put his hands on the glass, gazing into the blue-green waters at a sand-tiger shark and schools of fish. A huge sting ray swam by and then the scaly tail of a mermaid appeared at the top of the tank.

"Ohhh!" Oberoi said, as the mermaid, also wearing a belly-baring black swim top with silver sparkles, took sips of air from a hose.

"I think that's a beautiful sight, beautiful sight," Oberoi said.

Strolling to the exit, Oberoi told Visit Florida he was greatly enjoying his stay in Tampa, which his wife's relatives call home.

His son, just over a year old, is having a great time taking swim lessons, he said. "I was going to bring him but he was so tired from his swimming lessons."

Oberoi is also spending time here on causes dear to him. He was planning to go in a few hours to Oxford Exchange in Tampa for a charity event for Children Across Borders, for which he is an ambassador.

He was thrilled, he said, to see the enthusiasm and awareness in the area for Indian culture and global issues in general.

"When I was in my teens and first visited, kids here barely knew about my country," he said.

They would ask him: "Do they have tigers in the streets?" and "How do you keep snakes out of your home?"

"It's so heartening to see the way America has grown," he said.

Food for the Stars

At the 211 Restaurant at the Hilton Downtown Tampa, a special caterer from the Orlando area was brought in for the IIFA event, and to help cater to the stars staying at the hotel.

Desmond D'Souza, an executive chef and caterer specializing in Indian food, brought in 14 other chefs (including three from India), three tandoor ovens, rows of special bowls in which Indian masalas, rice and other dishes are served, plus special rods for cooking kabobs.

Along with Hilton's executive chef, Serge Saouma, they started up to six months ago revamping the menus and, but kept American wraps, turkey clubs and other such items on the menu.

"We managed to create a menu acceptable to everybody," D'Souza said.

In addition to preparing food for IIFA banquets, the special room service requests from stars are keeping the kitchen staff busy.

Vegan, vegetarian, non-dairy, and gluten-free items are among the requests, along with dishes such as chicken makhani, paneer pasanda, lamb, shrimp and lentil dishes.

The chefs go through 50-pound bags of flour to make 200-250 naan breads every morning and evening, in addition to four other types of bread, D'Souza said.

Usually, the stars just ignore the menu and make special orders.

"They don't want to take no for an answer," D’Souza said, smiling.

"They expect it and we want to be there for them," Beth Muzik, Hilton's food and beverage director said while organizing the packets of sugar. Meanwhile, the kitchen prepared a special carrot and celery juice for a star.

"It has to be fresh and strained," Muzik said. "It's been great."

Other big requests are for special teas, and a special drink menu includes items with tamarind, tequila, lime juice and agave.

From across the room, service server Stacie Campbell noted another popular request: "Lots of hot milk!"

One star sent the kitchen scrambling with a request for baked beans with no pork.

The hotel brought in an interpreter because some stars call down wanting to speak to someone in their own dialect -- to be sure someone understands exactly the food they want.

Meanwhile, Campbell prepared a tray for juice, along with an egg white omelet with spinach and broccoli -- but no bread.

"I think so far it's been moving very smoothly," D'Souza said.


Dancing with the Stars

At a press conference at the downtown Hilton, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn shared the stage with Bollywood film star Anil Kapoor, dancing to the event theme, Do Da Tampa.

In his speech, Buckhorn said the city was both honored to host the event and humbled by the opportunity.

He noted that of the 7,000-8,000 people who
attended Wednesday night's Stomp event, 40 percent were not of Indian heritage.

"I can tell you they didn't understand all that was going to happen, but they do now, and they're in love," Buckhorn said.

When you hear someone from Alabama walking down the street butchering the greeting Namaste, he said, “I know we've come a long way."

Gov. Rick Scott spoke briefly, congratuled Buckhorn on his dancing, said he found the energy of India unbelievable and encouraged everyone to have a wonderful time.

At the end, several stars, including Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone, got on stage to dance to Do Da Tampa.

But out-moving them all was Visit Tampa Bay's Santiago Corrada, who twirled Kapoor in a salsa-like move and  tried -- unsuccessfully -- to get American actor Stephen Baldwin to move his hips.

Ahoy, There: Welcome to Bollywood

Shaun Brooker and Todd Burnett, from Tampa's Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, were part of the committee welcoming attendees to the Bollywood Oscars in Tampa. They were dressed as pirates as part of Tampa's tradition of annual parades of invading pirates and pirate ships.

"The Hilton called us yesterday so we got it all together," Burnett said.

Some out-of-town celebrities have been a little bewildered when greeted by the pair, reaching toward visitors with sets of beads to place around their necks.

"What are these guys doing?" Burnett said he could read on their faces.

"We try to give them about a minute of explanation," Brooker said.


Model Behavior for the Starstruck

Some fans decided to forgo waiting to see stars at the airport and instead try to catch a glimpse of them at the Hilton in downtown Tampa.

Tina Bansal, 32, who traveled from her home in England to attend the awards, said she caught Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, famous in the United States for his role as the gameshow host in Slumdog Millionaire, heading for coffee in Starbucks near the hotel.

"Can I take a picture with you?" She said she asked. He obliged and gave a great smile, said Bansal, who is of Indian heritage.

A model, she traveled here with a friend, a fashion designer, whose clothes she'll be wearing to events. For the awards she'll wear a long baby pink ball gown, she said.

Bansal -- thrilled to attend the events she has never seen in her own country -- admitted to being intimidated arriving at the awards in her gown along with so many glamorous stars.

"You don't know if the cameramen are going to take a picture of you or are you a nobody," she said.

When IIFA's events are all over, she plans to hit Universal in Orlando, and do some shopping.


Presence and Understanding

More than 2,300 people of many races and ethnic groups came to in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa for the IIFA Stomp, the official start of events.

Hundred pressed against the stage, bopping up and down to Hindi music played by deejays through huge speakers. Dozens of smart phone cameras hovered in the air when local Bollywood dance troupes took to the stage.

Lines snaked across the grass behind beer trucks and at peripheral sidewalk tents selling butter chicken, samosas and other Indian cuisine.

Families lounged on blankets and kids swirled in hoola hoops.

Partiers wore shorts and jeans and some women were in colorful saris and salwar kameez tunic and pants.

The display made Sahana Gowda of Tampa proud.

"From when I came (to the United States from India 20 years ago) there's been a tremendous amount of understanding of Indian culture," said Gowda, a palliative care physician with relatives from throughout the U.S. visiting her to attend the awards.

The Indian-American community has a huge imprint now,” she said as daughter Neha, 5, twirled a hoop. Daughter Maya, 13, was elsewhere in town, in an Indian Flash Mob dance troupe.

"They are a presence."


Say cheese, for the IIFA Expo

A throng of journalists and fans pushed behind Bollywood film star Anil Kapoor after he cut the ribbon at the IIFA Expo at the Tampa Convention Center.

On a stage inside, he appeared with Dr. Kiran Patel, a Tampa doctor instrumental in getting the awards brought here, plus Andre Timmins of IIFA and Santiago Corrada of Visit Tampa Bay.

They lit a candle on stage and said a short prayer to Ganesh.

Patel said the Expo was part of the business connection tying India to Florida, Tampa and the United States.

"This is only the beginning," Patel said.

Want to know more about Bollywood and Indian culture in Florida?
Have a look at these features:

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http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/indian-grocery-orlando-amrhein.html

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http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/Indian-dance-orlando-amrhein.html

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http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/indian-clothing-orlando-amrhein.html

Ayurvedic Center Offers Ancient Alternative Treatments
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-sai-ayurvedic-amrhein-farrell.html

An Expert Guide to Indian Cuisine
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-guide-to-indian-cuisine-amrhein.html

A Primer: 12 Tips for Understandng and Enjoying Indian Food
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-food-primer-amrhein.html

Video: Cricket Takes Hold on the Fields of Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/videos/2014/Cricket-Takes-Hold-On-the-Fields-Er-Pitches-of-Tampa.html

Cricket – Florida’s Growing International Sport
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-cricket-article-amrhein.html

Bollywood: On Screen and In Hearts in Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-movies-tampa-amrhein.html

Honoring the Soul with Yoga in Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-yoga-amrhein.html

Indian Temples in Tampa Offer Celebrations, Festivals and Understanding
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-temples-amrhein.html

Community Thrives at Tampa's Center of Indian Culture
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-india-cultural-center-tampa-amrhein.html

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