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A taste of Bollywood at Indian Republic Day celebration

TAMPA — If you think you know movies, a few bits of cinema trivia on display Sunday at the India Cultural Center might have offered a maddening challenge.

What was the first Tamil language film to be nominated for an Oscar? Did you say 1969's Deiva Magan in the best foreign film category? Lucky guess.

What reclusive Indian movie star was sometimes compared to Greta Garbo? Suchitra Sen? Bingo.

With India's premier film awards show coming to Tampa April 24-26, the Federation of Indian Associations of Tampa Bay decided to give its annual Republic Day celebration a celluloid glint by highlighting 100 years of Indian cinema.

It was 65 years ago Sunday when India, the world's largest democracy, adopted its constitution, and Republic Days are celebrated around the world.

Several hundred people attended the festivities at the center on Lynn Road in Carrollwood, which included sports competitions for children, food and vendor booths, a cooking competition and a flag-raising ceremony with the singing of both the U.S. and Indian national anthems.

Federation organizers said they thought it was a good time to educate the community about the diverse and rich history of Indian cinema as Tampa prepares for the so-called Bollywood Oscars in April by the International Indian Film Academy.

"By and large, cinema is one of India's biggest industries," said Ravi Narayanan, FIA president. "We want to create an awareness of who we are. The United States is our adopted motherland. And we want the entire community to join in the celebration. We can all take pride in" bringing the Bollywood Oscars to Tampa.

Indian movies are made in several different languages, and each arm of that industry has a rich history dating to the early 20th century. The federation highlighted the film history of seven languages spoken in India with displays at the cultural center.

Sameer Khanvilkar stood by an exhibit highlighting Marathi language filmmaking and said Tampa Bay's Indian community is overjoyed that the Bollywood Oscars are headed to Tampa.

"It's huge because we competed against L.A., San Francisco and New York," he said. "Those are major markets. And we beat them out. It's like out of the world that this impossible thing happened. It's very exciting."

About 30,000 people are expected to attend the Bollywood Oscars at Raymond James Stadium. In some ways, the weekend isn't a mirror of the American Oscars. For one, you won't see anyone walking a red carpet. Arriving movie stars will walk a green carpet.

And the Indian movie industry is actually bigger than Hollywood.

With more than 1,000 movie releases each year, the Indian film industry has a global reach. Its movies sell 4 billion-plus tickets annually, more than the 1.2 billion tickets that Hollywood sells in the United States.

The IIFA awards weekend historically has attracted 500 or more journalists from around the world and attracts a television viewership of nearly 800 million people.

Members of Tampa Bay's Indian community say they work hard to keep a sense of cultural identity in the United States, something the awards weekend will help accomplish.

That is especially important, they say, for children growing up in the states far from India.

"We come together to celebrate," said Nityanand Sharma. "It's at least good for the kids so they know our culture and history."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

One of the displays at the Republic Day celebration at the India Cultural Center in Carrollwood that was featured in an article Monday highlighted the Marathi film industry. The article misidentified the language.

A taste of Bollywood at Indian Republic Day celebration 01/26/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 4:47pm]
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