The lack of detailing made the at Tampa look like a haphazardly put together spectacle

India’s soft power was on display at the 15th International India Film Academy Awards (IIFA) in the scenic town of Tampa in Florida. When two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey draped a lungi to dance to eponymous number, Bollywood dominance could be felt in the jam-packed Raymond James stadium better known as the home for American football powerhouse Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The craze could be felt at the sidelines where a Yugoslav mother residing in Atlanta was eager to find somebody who could catapult her 23-year-old daughter into Bollywood. One could not miss the Durga tattoo on her leg and the Om pendant in her neck. “She can dance. My only worry is she can’t speak Hindi.” Don’t worry, a local source was quick to soothe her nerves.

However, the lack of detailing made it look like a haphazardly put together spectacle. Why Tampa? The organisers look for destinations which provide the best deal. It means hosting the industry bigwigs and their entourage at a discounted rate. What does it entail? Compromise. Vidya Balan, who was supposed to participate in a couple of crucial events, opted out ostensibly because there was no direct flight to the city. The organisers said she has had some health issues. At a time when Mumbai was going for vote, the event put some of the industry professionals in the quandary of choosing between their professional and national duty. With some vision the controversy could have been easily avoided and the stars wouldn’t have had to evade the media.

Hail the queens

This was the first foray of IIFA in the US and one expected Bollywood to turn out in full force. However, in the absence of top Khans and Bachchans, the responsibility of wooing the crowd shifted to the shapely shoulders of reigning Bollywood divas Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. They literally dwarfed their male counterparts and Spacey, along with hosts Farhan Akhtar and Shahid Kapur, sat down on the stage as Deepika addressed the audience after jiving to “Lungi dance”. Remember the song belonged to a Shah Rukh Khan film. In a well intended pun Farhan said that she brought stree (woman) to industry this year. Deepika, in control of the proceedings, compared the award to her father Prakash Padukone’s All England trophy. Before John Travolta chose to break into an impromptu jig with Priyanka Chopra on “Tune Mari Ghantiyaan”, he rang up the Indian media by stating that in Priyanka’s “Exotica”, he saw a marriage between Bollywood and Hollywood.

Branding issues

Meant for the Indian diaspora, the event continues to brand Hindi cinema as a celebration of song and dance. It seems odd at a time when Hindi cinema is aspiring to explore new frontiers. “I don’t see anything wrong with it because it is something that makes us distinct and original and the new generation of filmmakers are using song and dance in novel ways,” said producer-director Ramesh Sippy. “What I don’t like is when IIFA is dubbed as Bollywood Oscars. I think it is done to create an easy connect like once upon a time we named Hindi film industry as Bollywood,” he added. Resul Pookutty said Oscars is just one of the things that the Academy does. “If IIFA wants to go the Oscar way, it should work for the overall development of the craft and the people associated with it. We have started a couple of scholarships but it is still a long way to go.”

Destination Bollywood

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he wanted Tampa on the international tourism map and what better way to reach out to the world than Bollywood. “People know Orlando and Miami but Tampa remains out of the tourist’s radar. We also want to develop it as a shooting destination.” Producer Mukesh Bhatt attests his claim. “Research shows that wherever Bollywood goes, tourism follows. After all, every sixth person walking on this planet is an Indian and the world knows that Indians love their cinema. However, as far as shooting in Tampa is concerned, it will depend on what incentives they offer.” But these days is Bollywood not pandering to NRI audience? “The stories could be worked out to create space for locations,” said Bhatt, who has been instrumental in bringing South Africa and Australia on the Bollywood map.

Fashion sense

When Hetal Gandhi, the reporter of Fox 13 turned up in a salwar suit to cover the event, it came as a shock for Indian media contingent as most of the reporters of electronic media decked up in Western outfits to report. It reflected the image that the West holds of Indian films. The time lag was on display at IIFA Expo as well where dated ghagras and cholis were on sale. Tampa Bay Times was scathing in a front page report headlined ‘Anything goes on green’, a comment on the choice of outfits of Indian filmstars it described them as a jumble of suits and sequins.

Mr. India

Nostalgia was in the air when middle aged women danced to “One Two Ka Four” as Anil Kapoor turned up to inaugurate the IIFA Expo. He continues to be the best known Bollywood face in this part of the world, courtesy “Slumdog Millionaire” and is enjoying a late surge in his career. He admitted that he didn’t know who Danny Boyle was before he was offered the film and stressed on bringing more discipline to Bollywood.

One sided contest

“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” sprinted away with the cream of the awardsSuch was the dominance of the film that Rishi Kapoor, who won the award for best performance in a negative role for “D Day”, commented that had there been a villain in Mehra’s film he would have stood no chance. It was only “Aashiqui 2” that withstood the Milkha challenge by sweeping away most awards in the music category. Like most popular awards, certain choices bewildered the audience, including Aditya Roy Kapoor bagging the best supporting actor trophy for “Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani”, over Saurabh Shukla (“Jolly LLB”) and Nawazuddin (“The Lunchbox”), nominated in the same category. Political colour

Coming straight from the political cauldron, Shatrughan Sinha, who was awarded with the lifetime achievement award, mistook the IIFA stage as an opportunity to ask for support for his political party. Without naming his party’s prime ministerial candidate, Sinha told the crowd his strengths.

Prepping for the world stage

For an event billed as the best of Bollywood outside India, it irks when the star performers turn up with out preparation. This was apparent during the technical awards where nobody seemed to get the sur right. The technical team did not help. When Rahat Ali Khan was performing, somebody thought that the audience needed to be perked up and as the big screen splashed Hrithik Roshan’s face, the crowd went into a frenzy, reducing the eminent singer to a mere background ground sound. And it was not a one off case.

Things improved considerably during the main event as Farhan Akhtar and Shahid Kapur anchored the loose ends well with their improvisation. Hit by the selfie-syndrome, the Oscar effect could be felt, but it was all in good humour.

However, it doesn’t suit an international event to start three hours behind schedule and go on till three in the morning. One of the PR professionals said that one of the reasons for the delay was that the US bus drivers were too disciplined. They don’t take calls while driving. Top stars kept the media and fans waiting and in the meantime pent forces like Aftab Shivdasani and Gulshan Grover kept the green carpet lukewarm. Director Rajkumar Hirani was not too impressed by the choice of the city and inordinate delays. “Travolta and Spacey were amazed by the size of the crowd. Had it been in Los Angeles the impact would have been far greater. If we really want Bollywood to spread, the stars should cut down on their appearance fees or the organisers should bring five top stars – say Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth – and start and finish the event on time. There is no point in tiring out the audience.”