TAMPA — The crowd of Bollywood film fans that turned out Monday to greet Shahid Kapoor at Tampa International Airport had enough girls from King High School's IB program to fill a classroom.
All took photos with their smartphones, and all were crazy for Kapoor, a leading man whose repertoire of dance moves prompts comparisons to Channing Tatum.
But from that group it was 18-year-old Serena Kotwal of New Tampa who snagged a green carpet selfie with Kapoor and her sister Shivani, 21.
"So jealous," said her classmate, Mano Murugappan, 17.
And who can blame her? These girls, entranced by Kapoor's performances since they were in grade school, are the teenaged vanguard of an Indian-American community swelling with pride to see the Tampa Bay area host the 15th annual International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards.
The IIFA awards, being held in the U.S. for the first time, are expected to bring more than 30,000 visitors and have an economic impact of $11 million or more. In the long run, local officials hope they boost U.S.-Indian travel, tourism and trade.
"I'm as excited about what the rest of the week brings as everybody else," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, scheduled to speak at Saturday night's IIFA awards show at Raymond James Stadium. "It's once again Tampa's chance to introduce this city to the world."
But, first, there's the matter of welcoming those VIPs.
For IIFA, the green carpet that the celebrities walk outside its events gives Bollywood's fan-friendly stars a chance to mingle with their audience and generate a little buzz.
Like Hollywood, IIFA once used a red carpet. But it switched to green for its 2007 awards in Yorkshire, England, to help draw attention to the issue of climate change. Since then, the green carpet has become part of the event's identity.
In Tampa, IIFA has put down a green carpet — one of several to be rolled out around town — under a tent on the rooftop deck of the airport's parking garage.
About 2:05 p.m. Monday, 10 minutes before he was expected, Kapoor popped out of a bank of elevators at one end of the carpet. In an instant, about 100 fans began screaming, taking photos and reaching out to him.
"Shahid! Shahid! Shahid!" they chanted as Kapoor made his way down the line, greeting well-wishers, signing autographs and making Serena Kotwal the envy of her classmates.
"Interacting with the people — I think that's the most exciting part," Kapoor told reporters. "There's a huge audience out here for Indian cinema, and one rarely gets to interact with them directly."
Kapoor, 33, will co-host Saturday's awards gala with actor-director Farhan Akhtar. (They shared the hosting duties at IIFA 2012 in Singapore.) Kapoor also is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at Wednesday night's Tampa Bay Rays-Minnesota Twins baseball game at Tropicana Field.
And how did he like his reception at the airport?
"I've just gotten down from about a 22-hour flight, but it was enough to make me feel very, very happy and excited," he said. "It's always wonderful to see the kind of support we have whenever we travel outside (India). It's fantastic."
The feeling was mutual.
"Oh my gosh," said Shivani Kotwal, a pre-med senior at the University of South Florida. "I've seen him on the big screen, but I can say for a fact that he looks better in real life."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.