'Bollywood Oscars' take a tour of Florida's Capitol

Published March 21, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's capital city got a taste of the "Bollywood Oscars" Thursday, as lawmakers honored those who helped bring the international affair to Tampa.

Sen. John Legg, the Lutz Republican who chairs the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation, said he invited representatives from the International Indian Film Academy to Tallahassee to celebrate the Sunshine State being chosen as the first U.S. site for the awards.

"We are very proud to host it here in Florida in the Tampa Bay area where we will see international exposure, international trade and business and cultural goodwill," Legg said.

Viraf Sarkari, a director of the company that produces the awards show, and Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada were among the representatives who spent the day in the Capitol. They met with Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford and had a photo op with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera.

The Senate also approved a resolution celebrating the IIFA Awards and recognized the visitors during its afternoon session.

During a brief program on the top floor of the Capitol building, dance teams from the India Association of Tallahassee entertained the group with Bollywood-themed performances.

But the center of attention was Indian film star Preity Zinta, making her first visit to Florida.

"The only time I think for all actors to interact with their fans from different countries is IIFA, so if you're not going to go there, your bad luck," Zinta said playfully.

The "Bollywood Oscars" are expected to bring more than 30,000 visitors to Florida with a $20 million economic impact. Award viewership could top 800 million people worldwide.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is the honorary host committee chairman for the awards and traveled to Tallahassee with the group. He told the group that he worked at the Capitol over 30 years ago when the building was brand new and the top floor was still unfinished.

One afternoon, he snuck a young lady he was dating into the barren room and kissed her on the cheek. That woman is now his wife Devon, Higginbotham told the crowd.

"It is a love story made in Bollywood," he said to cheers and applause.