TAMPA — Movie stars Anil Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra mingled with politicians and business executives at the Tampa Theatre last week, but it was at the University of South Florida where they drew a crowd of cheering Bollywood film fans.
No wonder: USF has more international students from India than from any country except China.
Several hundred turned out to see Chopra, a former Miss World who has risen to become one of India's most successful actors, and Kapoor, known outside India as the game show host in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and for a role in Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol.
Both were in Tampa to promote the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards, scheduled for April 24-26 in Tampa. Often described as the Academy Awards for Bollywood cinema, the IIFA awards show will be at Raymond James Stadium on April 26.
At USF, Chopra and Kapoor participated in a tree-planting ceremony at the Patel College of Global Sustainability. In addition to supporting USF, Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel are leading local backers of bringing the IIFA awards to Tampa — so much so that a key organizer called Kiran Patel "the host of IIFA in Tampa Bay."
"He had this belief that IIFA could bring North America and India closer together," said Viraf Sarkari, a director of Wizcraft International Entertainment, which produces the awards show form its home base in Mumbai.
Still, Patel said his wife warned him off the idea early on.
"She told me categorically, 'I do not want you to be involved, and I do not want to support this event at all,' " he said during an IIFA news conference at the Tampa Theatre. "That's why I did it."
Pallavi Patel said she has seen more of past IIFA awards shows than her husband, and going in, neither had any expertise in the film industry, so she was skeptical. But she and her husband have since visited IIFA's headquarters in India and gotten to know the organizers, whom she describes as "genuine, honest and who will deliver."
"I feel pretty good," she said. "It will put Tampa on the map."
After the stars' visit, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said his city as a whole is only beginning to recognize what hosting the IIFA awards will mean.
"I think it's going to be pretty cool, and I think it's a big deal," Buckhorn said. "I don't think that most Tampanians have really fully appreciated how big and international an event this is."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.