Bollywood Oscars Stir Excitement in Tampa and Beyond

By: Carlos Harrison

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Concerts, celebrities and cinema are in the works for Florida’s city by the bay – all part of the first “Bollywood Oscars” to be held in the United States.

That means there’s likely to be something – or many somethings – for just about everyone as Tampa hosts the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards from April 24 to 26.

The buzz already has out-of-towners making plans to visit. 

“I think it’s incredible,” said University of Miami Law School fellow Vaishali Desai. “A lot of times, watching these Bollywood films, it feels as if they are so far away, they’re so distant. So, in a sense, this is bridging that gap and bringing it closer. All of the actresses and actors and everything are going to be here.” 

The IIFA awards weekend and ceremony includes three days of parties, music, film briefings, workshops, forums and celebrity events. 

For fans of the iconic Indian films - three-hour-long musical extravaganzas filled with singing, elaborate dance routines, romance, comedy and action (think an Annette Funicello beach movie set to popular Indian rhythms) – the award show is bigger than the Super Bowl.

An estimated 800 million people in more than 110 countries will be watching on TV, but this is the first time Bollywood buffs in the United States will be able to attend without boarding a lengthy international flight. 

“It’s going to be so near to us. I think it’s really incredible and I’m absolutely going to go,” Desai said. 

She’ll have to hurry. In 2011 in Toronto, when the awards show made its North American debut, all 18,000 tickets sold out within 10 minutes. 

It’s easy to see why. The genre’s appeal extends far beyond its native India. The lively and highly entertaining movies attract fans from diverse cultures from around the world, for a variety of reasons. 

“My favorite thing about Bollywood movies has to be the clothes,” said Miamian Anne-Solenne Rolland. “It sounds superficial, but the colors, the details and the ‘exoticness’ of it, make a love story or coming-of-age story that much more fantastic and fairytale-like.”

The attraction goes far beyond the clothes, though. The films offer an engrossing spectacle reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Era. 

“It’s colorful. It’s elaborate. It’s like Busby Berkeley with finger cymbals,” said Bob Ross, a former film critic for the Tampa Tribune

Even Hollywood (California, not Florida) has caught the Bollywood fever. One of India’s biggest film stars, Priyanka Chopra, provided the voice and singing talents for Ishani, an Indian plane that crosses paths with an American one voiced by Dane Cook, in Disney’s animated adventure "Planes," which landed in theaters last summer.

She also teamed up with hip-hop phenom Pitbull to create “Exotic,” an energetically danceable hybrid of Indian-tinged melodies and the driving rhythms of America’s most popular genre. Filmed in Coconut Grove and in the waters on South Florida’s shore, the music video hit 2 million views on YouTube within two days of its release in July.

Chopra was on hand recently in Hollywood to announce the awards ceremony’s first ever appearance on U.S. soil. 

“Year after year, IIFA brings the best of Indian cinema to a new geography across the world, providing a taste of the best that we have to offer. We are very excited to bring IIFA to Tampa Bay,” she said. “There will be music, dance and a whole lot of spice!  We’re looking forward to giving our fans and new audiences the experience of a lifetime.” 

Anil Kapoor, an Indian movie superstar perhaps better known to American audiences for his role in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and his award-winning performance in “Slumdog Millionaire,” joined Chopra for the announcement. 

“With the promise of bringing the biggest and best events for the fans of Indian cinema, the IIFA Weekend and Awards has grown into an iconic platform for audiences globally,” he said, adding, “I am delighted to see IIFA make its debut in the USA. … We are proud to give audiences a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness one of the finest celebrations of Indian culture and cinema. Tampa Bay is in for a treat.” 

Hosting the IIFA awards ceremony in Florida is a recognition of the global influence of Indian film, and of the rapidly growing Indian community in the United States. It’s also a huge boon for Tampa. 

The city beat out Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco as a venue, as well as Melbourne, Australia, Dubai and London, said Chetan “Jason” Shah, a Lutz real estate agent organizing a series of functions affiliated with the main event. Organizers expect the awards show to bring 50,000 visitors to the Tampa Bay area and boost tourist business by 25 percent. 

But for real Bollywood fans, it’s not about business or tourism statistics. It’s a chance to get close to the Indian cinema celebrities they adore, and an extraordinary chance to connect to Indian culture. 

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