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Bollywood's mark on the tulip fields


The International Indian Film Awards is not about money. It is about worldwide hype, momentum ... for Indian cinema. A look at the ceremony, held this year in Amsterdam.


L.A. STYLE: The stars in the Dutch city were (from left) Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Abishek Bachchan.

THE young man, who was serenely smoking a joint a minute ago, jumps up for a glimpse of the action. Arms outstretched, he yells, "Mummyji, Pappaji, I love you!" Rather bizarre — even for someone who's on a marijuana high — when you consider our ardent declarer of parental love is blond, Dutch and standing outside the grand, old Pathe Tuschinski theatre in Amsterdam. The "action" is a red carpet walk for the cast of Parineeta, the World Premiere Film at the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) weekend this year.

Put it down to a masalafied diet of Karan Johar, who was the one who told us that "It's all about loving your parents" with his "Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham" in 2001. After all, this city of canals, tulips, drugs and paid love is the venue of the sixth IIFA Awards, a weekend of Bollywood in the truest sense of the term; this is when the Hindi film industry celebrates its existence L.A. style, with red carpet walks, parties and a much-hyped awards ceremony.

The aim of this extravaganza, according to co-founder and co-director of IIFA Sabbas Joseph, is to create a "momentum" for Indian cinema globally. Along with Andre Timmins and Viraf Sarkari, he started the awards six years ago at the Millennium Dome, U.K., a do attended by Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie and that saucy minx Kylie Minogue.

Business created

Says Joseph, "We hold the IIFA Weekend in places where Indian cinema does not have a presence," he says. South Africa, the United Kingdom, Malaysia,

Singapore? Surprising, considering these previous venues for the IIFA weekends all have a strong Indian presence. "I'll admit there are a lot of Indians in these places but the business of Indian cinema did not exist there before IIFA. In Singapore, Indian films were screened only in Little India, and that too mostly Tamil films," says Sabbas.

He says the sale of tickets of Hindi cinema grew by 35 per cent in the U.K. in the six months after IIFA. In South Africa, Hindi films were only screened during matinee shows but they have now moved to mainline theatres. Sabbas says there are distribution chains vying for the rights to exhibit Hindi films across Africa.

The IIFA website also says in Malaysia, "there was an increase in the value of rights for Indian Cinema and the collection from exhibition and sale of non-pirated DVDs increased by more than 50 per cent. The number of Indian visitors to Malaysia has risen by 35 per cent and Indian occupancy at Genting Highlands rose by 190 per cent in the year after IIFA." And it's not just business that benefits. Last year in Singapore, director Shekhar Kapoor announced his bilingual film venture — "Paani" in Hindi and "Water" in English — with Barrie Osborne, producer of The "Lord of the Rings".

And now, weeks after "Parineeta's" IIFA premiere, the film's director Pradeep Sarkar says it had a great opening in the U.K. and the U.S. markets, thanks to the hype at IIFA. It will soon have a full-fledged release across the Netherlands with 25 to 30 prints. Sarkar says, "The BBC and several other international media organisations were present at IIFA. This gave the film immediate hype in their countries. And of course, "Parineeta" shows a true India that even foreigners like to see." Sarkar's debut film follows "Lagaan" as an IIFA world premiere. Lagaan went on to be nominated for the Oscars. Does Sarkar think that "Parineeta" will follow "Lagaan's" lead? "We never expected to be chosen for IIFA. Thanks to it, it got publicity," is all he'll say. Publicity is one of the integral parts of IIFA. The stars and the media make IIFA. There were 350 film personalities (directors, producers, filmstars, nominees) and 120 media people (excluding the ones from The Netherlands) who were flown to Amsterdam and hosted for the three days of partying.

Partying or films?

"We chose Amsterdam because it is a great place to party," says Sabbas. Although the partying and glamour generates a lot of interest in the event, there are those from the film fraternity who feel it takes away from the real focus of IIFA — the films. Ashvin Kumar, director of Oscar-nominated short film "Little Terrorist" that was part of the IIFA film festival this year, says, "There should be something to be gained after bringing all these people here. The celebrity cricket match got more attention than the film festival. We should take a leaf out of Cannes where the glamour draws attention to the real thing — good cinema. But then anyway, Hindi cinema is atrophy. It's mere titillation where they flash violence and breasts. The concept and story are lifted from other films."

It takes about $3 million to pull off IIFA each year and Sabbas says, "Like any venture, we do make a small profit but the idea is to break even. IIFA is not about the money. It's about worldwide hype, momentum ... for Indian cinema. We started the publicity six months ago. We brought the international media to Mumbai to meet prominent Indian film journalists. We educated them about Hindi films."

Obviously, it's all working. Indians in Amsterdam are constantly stopped by the locals who want to know where Amitabh Bachchan is. And Bollywood has left an indelible mark on Holland's tulip fields with one variety of the flower named after Aishwarya Rai. The downside is that IIFA perpetuates the idea of "Bollywood", a self-deprecating crack at Hindi cinema being a Bombay version of the real thing — Hollywood. It also reinforces that Hindi cinema is Indian cinema, that the two terms are interchangeable, thereby undermining the presence of Indian films from other regions. But that's another story.

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