Bollywood awards show is one to remember

Performers present the opening act for the Bollywood Oscars, a tribute to Tampa, at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. 
Performers present the opening act for the Bollywood Oscars, a tribute to Tampa, at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. 
Published Apr. 27, 2014


Whom did the announcer at Raymond James Stadium think he was kidding?

Minutes before the 15th annual International Indian Film Academy Awards kicked off Saturday night — of course, later than scheduled — his voice reminded fans the show was being recorded for television:

"We request you to not have too much movement in the audience."

Fat chance with this crowd.

Opening with highlights of previous IIFA celebrations that Tampa hoped to equal, the mood was part rock show, part pep rally.

A history lesson in Gasparilla tradition was shown on the stadium's giant video screen, from Jose's plunder to Bayshore Boulevard's thunder. Then came the evening's first memorable visual effect. With booming cannons and a Bollywood beat, a pirate ship rolled out, carrying co-hosts Shahid Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar in swashbuckler garb.

They proceeded to stroll through the crowd, stopping to josh Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who at first, as usual, refused to turn over the city.

Then, in a historic change of course, Buckhorn relented on one condition: "Only if you entertain us."


First on the to-do list: the propulsive beats of Do Da Tampa, composed specially for the event, with a stage filled by acrobats, cheerleaders in Bucs colors, sailors and mermaids. It was like a chamber of commerce on acid.

On the video screen, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey looked upon the scene in awe, as if wondering what Hollywood has been missing.

The evening's first award was presented to Bollywood legend Shatrughan "Shotgun" Sinha, who briefly turned his acceptance speech into a political statement regarding India's current political unrest.

Several IIFA luminaries have been recently criticized through social media for traveling to Tampa rather than staying home to vote in a contentious parliamentary election.

"We put this aside tonight for entertainment,'' Sinha said.

Kapoor and Akhtar, meanwhile, kept up a steady stream of patter, raising laughter from everyone fluent in Hindi. An a capella group performed Indian pop songs in 12-part harmony.

Later in the evening, actor John Travolta was scheduled to accept a prize for his popularity in India. Travolta's talents suits the Bollywood tradition of doing it all on screen: singing, dancing and acting with equal aplomb.

The excited crowd ate it all up, savoring the culmination of a four-day celebration unlike any in Tampa's history. This city has hosted Super Bowls, a Women's Final Four and the Republican National Convention, but nothing like the Bollywood Oscars.

Several hours before the show, throngs of fans lined up outside the stadium, waiting under umbrellas in the hot afternoon sun in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite stars walking the traditional green carpet.

They held handmade signs that said "Long Live Bollywood" and screamed whenever TV cameras sailed by. Some fans clad in sparkling saris even scaled trees to get a better view.

"Deepika! Deepika! Deepika" they chanted, hoping to see Indian movie star Deepika Padukone. Television hosts from the BBC got the crowd juiced by giving out free subscriptions to cable channel Bollyverse.

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Buckhorn was among the local notables who strolled for the crowd. He wore a blue velvet suit with a glittering high collar and shades, grinning and posing for pictures. He was followed by singer Ankit Tiwari, who called Tampa "very beautiful, very peaceful, very charming," in Hindi.

Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor then sent the crowd into a frenzy when he stepped into a 360-degree fashion camera booth and hammed it up.

Padukone came down the carpet just before 8 p.m. in a red lace gown, followed by Spacey, and the fans screamed until they sounded hoarse. "Frank Underwood for president!" the fans shouted, referring to his character in House of Cards.

Going into the event, organizers expected to attract 30,000 or more film fans — 5 percent from India, 40 percent from the Tampa Bay area, 20 to 25 percent from other parts of the United States and the rest from Canada and other countries. Estimates of the local economic impact start at $11 million.

But officials say hosting the awards also gave them a chance to extend the bay area's brand to the other side of the world.

"It's about more than just the party," Buckhorn said. "It's about creating an identity for the city that we haven't ever had before. We've been somewhat of a faceless, nameless place in the eyes of the world. Everyone knows where Miami is. Everyone knows the mouse in Orlando. But not many people know about Tampa. This is our chance to expose Tampa to a whole subcontinent that's never seen it before."

Throughout the week, officials said the event came together without complications.

"These guys deliver," Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada said of Wizcraft International Entertainment, the company in Mumbai that created the IIFA Awards. "I mean, they tell you they're going to do something and they do it.''

Corrada also said the IIFA Awards marked a step forward in the area's ability to take on a challenge.

"This is the first time we've turned around an event this big in such a short period of time," he said. "For us to land this July 4 of last year, and we're putting this on April of this year, is just unbelievable. For all the pieces to come together, it's unheard of."

No one is sure what the long-term effect of the Bollywood invasion might be on the region.

But around town, Buckhorn says he can already see — and hear — a change.

"When I can walk down the street," he said, "and hear someone with an Alabama accent say, 'Namaste,' I know we've come a mighty long way."

Times staff writers Caitlin O'Conner and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.