Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, but why?


By Tamara Lush, AP

TAMPA, Florida — The so-called Bollywood Oscars have been held in Macau, Singapore, London and now … Tampa?

Starting on Wednesday, hundreds of Indian film stars and thousands of Bollywood fans are expected to flood this city for the International Indian Film Academy’s awards extravaganza, four days of song-and-dance performances and movie screenings. The event caps off with the awards ceremony Saturday.

Even though Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls and the 2012 Republican National Convention, its small Indian population makes it an unusual choice for the awards. The event has been held in big cities across the globe as the success of Bollywood has grown, but it’s the first time in its 15-year history that the group has gathered in the United States.

About 800 million people will watch the ceremony on television or the Internet, according to organizers.

Shades of Bollywood are everywhere in the area. The top floor of the Tampa International Airport parking garage was transformed into a reception area for Bollywood bigwigs and autograph-seeking fans. Shahid Kapoor, an actor with 4 million followers on Twitter, arrived to a small crowd at the VIP area Monday. He is scheduled to co-host the awards ceremony.

Elsewhere, security was trained on how best to handle enthusiastic fans and service workers were taught how to accommodate Indian visitors (tip: “just because you don’t recognize them, doesn’t mean they aren’t famous”).

Tampa was chosen because city and tourism leaders were aggressive. Sabbas Joseph, the director of the academy and entertainment company Wizcraft International, said Tampa officials even took a few jabs at the competition, telling him: “Orlando mice, Miami Vice and Tampa nice.”

Tourism leaders are thrilled and hope to draw more wealthy Indian tourists to the area. Some 30,000 people are expected. Hollywood superstar Kevin Spacey will teach a master acting class and John Travolta will be honored at the awards show as the “Most Popular All Time International Star In India.”