TAMPA — Today will be the people's day, but Tampa's elite got a chance Thursday night to meet Bollywood royalty.
And they were dazzled.
"When you watch the reaction of people when they see her, you can tell: This is the real deal. This is a real A-list Indian movie star," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said of Bollywood actor Vidya Balan during an invitation-only reception at the Oxford Exchange.
Balan arrived in Tampa late Thursday afternoon on a media tour that already had taken her to New York and Houston.
Today, she will talk to more journalists, then head to Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park in downtown Tampa for a lunchtime public appearance.
The bay area expects more than 30,000 visitors during the 15th annual International Indian Film Academy's weekend and awards, scheduled from April 23-26.
The weekend culminates with IIFA's signature green carpet and awards show at Raymond James Stadium. Tickets for the main awards show are selling for up to $3,295 each. Tickets for a second show, the Magic of the Movies & Technical Awards, go on sale Saturday through ticketmaster.com.
This is the first time IIFA has held the celebration in the United States, and organizers hope for a cross-cultural blossoming in India-U.S. trade, tourism and entertainment. At each stop, Balan is not only talking about the IIFA weekend but wants to introduce audiences to the richness of experience in Indian films.
"America is the second largest market for Hindi movies internationally, which is why it's apt that we have it here," Balan said. "There's wide variety within Indian cinema. I don't think people have been exposed to the variety, so you can't blame them for believing that Hindi films, Indian cinema is all about song and dance."
Balan has embraced that diversity in her own career. She has a reputation for taking on edgy roles, like the sex symbol who ultimately kills herself in the biopic The Dirty Picture. She also has been called a female hero, someone who can anchor and be the focus of a movie, rather than play a leading female alongside a well-known man. That's what she did in the blockbuster mystery-thriller Kahaani, where she was the best-known actor on screen and played a pregnant woman who gets vengeance for her husband's murder.
It's an approach that's working. Balan has won three IIFA awards in the last four years for best actress in a leading role and has served as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival. During the IIFA weekend, she'll conduct an acting workshop with Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey.
"For me, the definition of an actor is really someone who lives different people's lives each time," Balan said. "Today I'm being offered a great variety of roles and parts that are exciting, they're interesting, they're engaging, (and) with women at the center of the helm of affairs. Women-centric films, like Cate Blanchett said in her (Oscar) acceptance speech, are not really niche experiences. … A good film works."