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Why Bollywood in Tampa? Why not?

Ours is a city on the move, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn likes to say. And I would add, not always in ways you might expect.

Who'd have thought it? Here's Tampa smack in the middle of hosting India's Bollywood Oscars, with all the ensuing glam and glitz, sequins and skinny suits, famous actors and adoring fans, and a culture not entirely familiar to a lot of us.

How improbable. And as it turns out, how fun.

As this city on the west edge of Florida's middle grows and changes — as it "reimagines" itself, the boosters like to say — we are getting used to outsiders peering down their noses and saying: Tampa? Really?

This week, urbane National Public Radio politely pointed out that, even with its lovely bay and history of hosting large events, Tampa, Bollywood's first-ever American host, "isn't exactly an international capital."

A blunter Associated Press piece headlined Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, Fla., but why? noted that the Bollywood Oscars have been hosted by "Macau, Singapore, London — and now, Tampa?"

And did they really need "Fla." in the headline? They were thinking Tampa, Kansas, maybe?

Here's one reason why Tampa: Because people from here, among them Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, put serious sweat into convincing organizers what a great open stage we make.

And because it turns out we do know how to do this, given our Super Bowls and that Republican National Convention.

And maybe also because our very-button-down mayor — who described himself in that NPR story as looking like one of those "stuffy old white guys in suits" and will tell you he Does. Not. Dance. — this week was willing to cut loose in the spirit of things anyway, dancing onstage in front of everyone. The head of the tourism bureau did a split even.

So it's because we are a town that wanted it badly enough and could do it, too.

On a trip to Miami recently I was struck (as always) by change, like the hip restaurant filled with people out of a Ralph Lauren ad on the once workaday Miami River. (For the record, Tampa is "rethinking" its own Hillsborough River with the Riverwalk, restaurants and residences.)

But Miami at its heart is still the guy I saw on the wild end of Virginia Key last week, slicing open a coconut with a machete and tilting it back to drink. It's million-dollar views of a glittery city anyone can see for free from a beach chair set up under trees along a causeway.

Speaking of a city's personality, what do you suppose our international visitors made of swashbuckling pirates greeting them at the airport this week? Because the only-in-Tampa Gasparilla festival of marauding pirates taking over the town can be hard to explain even to fellow Floridians.

Besides a city slicked up for their visit, I hope they notice things like old-timers gossiping over Cuban toast in aging cafes, neighborhoods of old bungalows and the way the minarets over the University of Tampa look at sunset. I hope they notice our Jacaranda trees, suddenly bursting out in their yearly neon purple blossoms like we ordered them up special just for the occasion.

And when it's over maybe we're closer to the consensus that in Tampa, there's no chance you're in Kansas anymore.

Why Bollywood in Tampa? Why not? 04/25/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2014 10:47pm]
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