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Tampa Bay leaders build 'Bollywood Oscars' buzz here and abroad

TAMPA — Buzz is something organizers of the Indian film industry's version of the Academy Awards talk about a lot, and this week brings two initiatives to jump-start conversations both locally and abroad.

"We're trying to get the community here to understand the impact of what is coming," organizer Janak Vora recently told a group in Tampa about the International Indian Film Academy's 15th annual Weekend & Awards, scheduled for April 24-26 in the Tampa Bay area.

For IIFA, building cultural bridges between its host cities and Bollywood film fans is part of the job. The awards show goes to a different city every year — this will be its first appearance in the United States — and organizers make a habit of reaching out to local leaders and celebrities for support. This week, IIFA named its honorary host committee, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham as chairman.

Already IIFA has gotten a "tremendous response" in the bay area, according to Andre Timmins, a director of Wizcraft International, the Mumbai company that organizes the awards.

Now the idea is for the 45 bay area politicians, business executives and media types on the host committee to serve as ambassadors for IIFA as well as promote the Tampa Bay area and Florida to the 30,000-plus visitors expected to come here for the awards weekend.

This weekend, Higginbotham, Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, local supporter Dr. Kiran Patel and Visit Tampa Bay director of communications Liana Lopez are scheduled to head to Mumbai for a media blitz there.

"That's like, 18 hours of flying, 20 hours of work, and then 18 hours back," Buckhorn said.

On Monday, the Tampa team will work on plans for a two-day business forum to be held at the Tampa Convention Center as part of IIFA's awards weekend. On Tuesday, they'll meet with Indian journalists to discuss ticket sales, Tampa as a travel destination and nominations for the awards, which Corrada expects to be announced on Tuesday.

Visit Tampa Bay is covering travel costs for Buckhorn and Higginbotham, which Corrada said were less than $3,000 per person.

That, however, is only part of the effort to promote the region to Indian film fans. With $1 million freshly allocated from Hillsborough County and its hotel bed tax, local officials also are working on a marketing campaign that targets Canada and the United Kingdom.

"We've got a share of the world to market to," Corrada said, "but the IIFA brand sells itself worldwide, so we're focused on … certain geographic areas."

IIFA's plans in Tampa include a fashion and live music show at the University of South Florida Sun Dome and an Indian dance music event that will be free and open to the public in downtown Tampa. The awards show and the spectacle of stars walking IIFA's signature green carpet will be broadcast to a global television audience from Raymond James Stadium.

"What is it — 800 million people watching these awards?" Buckhorn said. "That's a big deal. So I get more and more excited the closer it gets."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.