TAMPA — The Bollywood Oscars later this month are drawing comparisons with the 2012 Republican National Convention for money spent in the community and for popularizing Tampa worldwide.
When it comes to security, on the other hand, the International Indian Film Academy awards are no national security event. No standing perimeters, no forests of surveillance cameras, no legions of visiting police.
Still, the event poses special challenges that public and private security forces are making secret plans to address. And in many ways, the task is the opposite of what they faced with the RNC — not keeping out but letting in crowds of fawning fans while assuring their safety and the safety of Bollywood’s biggest stars.
“The whole point of the event traveling from country to country is to give those fans from those areas a chance to see their favorite stars,” said Mambo Sharma, head of British operations for India-based Wizcraft International Entertainment, producers of the annual event. “This could be their only opportunity so they don’t want to miss it.”
Just ask Cuba Gooding.
The Oscar-winning actor was the toast of Hollywood when he won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1997. But that was nothing compared with the reaction he got as a presenter at the Bollywood Oscars four years later in Toronto.
“He said he’d never experienced that sort of craziness,” Sharma said. “He compared it to Beatlemania.”
Crowds seeking a glimpse of their favorite stars arriving at or leaving hotels grew so large that at times, the stars could do neither. The Toronto crowd was friendly, though, and easily parted by law enforcement.
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Sharma will be in Tampa when the 15th annual Bollywood Oscars makes its U.S. debut April 23-26.
One of his many duties will be working with private security teams as well as Tampa police and Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies to make sure the stars can move safely through the city while remaining accessible — and all without inconveniencing the people of Tampa.
After a slow start, an estimated 8,400 hotel room days have been reserved for the event, said Santiago Corrada, CEO and president of the Visit Tampa Bay tourism group. Corrada remains optimistic that hotels will have 10,000 bookings when events begin, which bodes well for hitting the projected mark of 30,000 visitors. That compares with an estimated 50,000 visitors for a national political party convention.
The crowds may be even bigger than at previous Bollywood Oscars, though, because U.S. stars are expected along with India’s biggest names. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, star of “House of Cards” on Netflix, is scheduled to attend, and organizers are waiting for confirmation from more big names — in business and politics, perhaps, as well as entertainment.
“We’ll be working 22 hours a day to keep up with all the stars and their movements throughout the city,” Sharma said. “And that is not a joke. We will literally sleep only two hours and then get right back to it.”
The Indian film academy has hired Tampa-based International Executive Protection as the private security team working with the stars, moving them throughout the city and securing location perimeters. The company has provided security for celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, Jenna Bush, Chuck Liddell, Gen. Colin Powell and Marie Osmond, and has worked major sports and political events.
Still, even to company president Lenny Bogdanos, Bollywood fans are in a league of their own.
International Executive Protection provided an escort to Indian megastar Preity Zinta when she visited the Capitol in Tallahassee last month to promote the Tampa awards. Bogdanos expected 30 to 40 fans. Ten times that many turned out.
“If that is any indication of the fan response, then this is going to be a big event,” Bogdanos said. “But we’re more than capable of handling it.”
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Whenever a star is ready to move, publicly or secretly, the security team will alert Tampa police or Hillsborough deputies and a decision will be made on whether help is needed.
“Typically if a star draws a large crowd, security advises us and we plan accordingly to make sure traffic is not impeded and everyone is safe,” said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Police use an “accordion plan” for such occasions, McElroy said.
“We always have officers on standby,” she said. “If the crowd is small we pull some out and if it’s large we send more.”
Such an approach will limit overtime pay without putting overall public safety at risk, she said.
Separate plans are being drawn for security at major Bollywood venues, including The MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, which hosts the Technical Awards on April 25, and Raymond James Stadium, which hosts the Bollywood Oscars on April 26.
“We’ve never had an event like this,” said Bobby Silvest, vice president of marketing and communications with the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages Raymond James Stadium.
What makes it unusual is the size of the production, the excitement level of the fans and the access they’ll have to the stars via the green carpet, Bollywood’s version of Hollywood’s red carpet.
Silvest would provide no details of the stadium’s security plan and would not comment on whether it will resemble security for Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, with visual and security-wand searches and restrictions on carry-in items.
“We do not discuss what we are doing,” he said. “But you can imagine that for an event like this we are working with law enforcement to put the proper measures in place.”
Wizcraft’s Sharma, who has worked on every Indian film academy awards, said he is confident everyone will be safe.
“The fans are very affectionate toward the stars and the stars are affectionate back,” he said. “But I’ve never had a bad experience where any of the fans try to hurt a star. This is just a fun time for everyone.”