TAMPA — If it already had not been busy hosting the 15th Annual International Indian Film Academy Weekend and Awards, Tampa's audition in the international movie spotlight would have made great fodder for a Bollywood musical.
The awards show held Saturday night inside Raymond James Stadium in front of an estimated audience of 25,000 was full of the glitz promised for weeks leading up to the four-day extravaganza.
Thousands of fans squealed and screamed as stars such as actor and producer Anil Kapoor walked the green carpet staged on Tampa Bay Boulevard for doing interviews. Women wearing elaborate and beautiful saris frequently matched the glamour of female stars arriving for the show.
Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wore a Nehru-style cobalt jacket which was fitting for the event.
Earlier in the week, it was Kapoor who tried to get Buckhorn to attempt a “Do the Tampa” dance during a kick-off news conference on the top floor of a Tampa International Airport parking garage.
The remainder of the week was a blur of activities, with a global business forum at the Tampa Convention Center, the IIFA Stomp concert at Curtis Hixon Park which drew about 8,000 people, the IIFA Rocks music and fashion show, the IIFA Magic of the Movies technical awards gala and an IIFA Masterclass Panel with actor Kevin Spacey. All of which was followed by the largest Indian event in the world, Saturday night's IIFA Awards.
The four days of awards-related events were as much a curiosity among the non-Indian population of Tampa as Tampa itself became for being the first U.S. city to serve as host during the awards show's 15-year history. As one Associated Press story headline put it, “Indian Film Awards Arrive in Tampa, Fla., but Why?” Another read, “America is puzzled. What's IIFA doing in Florida?”
The answer was simple. Sezan Mahmud, originally from Bengai and now a screenplay writer and author in Tallahassee, said before the awards Saturday that Buckhorn told him Friday night this event will give Tampa the biggest worldwide exposure in the city's history.
“Last (Friday) night's program was seen by more than 800 million people,” Mahmud said.
Not only that, Bollywood fans from all across the region, including Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami came to Tampa to celebrate their cinematic culture.
“The effects of this will be felt in Tampa for years,” Mahmud said.
As with some of the week's events, the IIFA awards on Saturday fell behind their scheduled start time of 8 p.m. Drummer DJ Ravi Drums entertained the audience for about 20 minutes, but by 9:35 p.m. the awards had yet to begin and the stadium, which was cut in half north and south by the stage, was only three-quarters full.
Some people in the stadium audience chanted: “Start the show!”
It would be hours before those in attendance would know which of the Best Picture nominees would take home the biggest prize of the night. Nominated films were: “Kai Po Che”, “Goliyon Ki Rasleela-Ramleela,” “Dhoom 3,” “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani,” and “Chennai Express and “Krrish 3.”
Fans began lining up hours before the first celebrities arrived on the green carpet,
At least two people were treated for heat exhaustion.
The first to arrive was Tampa's own Ravi Drums, a Chamberlain High School graduate.
The fans went wild and cameras flashed when celebrities exited their vehicles.
Stars included Vivek Oberoi, Tushar Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Vir Das and Ankit Tiwari
The carpet also saw the likes of Kevin Spacey. John Travolta and Kapoor added even more star wattage to the evening, stopping to greet fans and pose for selfies
A law enforcement officer predicted about 3,000 people attended the green carpet spectacle.
Finally, inside the stadium, the show began with a colorful video paying tribute to Tampa's annual Gasparilla celebration and it's corresponding parade. A “boat” filled with performers dressed as pirates took the stage in a high-energy song and dance routine.
The Cirque du Soleil-esque song and dance extravaganza featured flamenco dancers, floating mermaids, seahorses, stilt walkers and cheerleaders and the Buccaneers' mascot, before Buckhorn took the stage and praised his city
“They said we couldn't do it, they said Tampa was too small, they said, 'Where's Tampa?'” he said. “I'd like to say welcome to the greatest city in America - this is Tampa!”