TAMPA — Lighting up the silver screen with his dance moves as much as his acting chops, John Travolta has long been a favorite in a Bollywood industry that demands a range of talent in its own stars.
Now, it’s official: The star who has a home in Ocala and belongs to the Church of Scientology, with its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, is Bollywood’s most beloved American actor.
Travolta will be honored as “Most Popular All Time International Star In India” at the U.S. debut of its Bollywood Oscars at 7 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
The website Bollywoodlife.com, a TMZ-like news site for Indian cinema’s largest industry, wrote online that “a true movie buff’s heart fills with elation” over this news.
The Delhi Daily News in India hailed Travolta as “an iconic name in Hollywood” and said his participation “sends a message that the distance between Hollywood and Bollywood is slowly decreasing.”
It’s welcome news in the Florida film industry.
“It is what Travolta does,” said Tyler Martinolich, programming director for St. Petersburg’s Sunscreen Film Festival, May 1-4. “He has been one of Florida’s best film ambassadors and perhaps Tampa Bay’s top one.”
Travolta supports Florida film festivals, pitches for productions to come to here, speaks out for increased state film tax incentives and does whatever it takes to bring more Hollywood to Florida.
“He sincerely cares about making Florida a production capital,” said Sunscreen’s executive director Tony Armer. “He is among the nicest people you could hope to meet in the industry.”
He has also won two Golden Globes, has two Academy Award nominations and a resume of audience favorites like “Grease,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Get Shorty.”
Travolta will not be attending this year’s Sunscreen Film Festival, but he has been there twice — once as the opening night guest of honor in 2008 and then as an awards presenter in 2010.
“He helps us with whatever he can,” Martinolich said. “We can use his face to promote the fest. He helps us get other big name celebrities. He is absolutely fantastic in his efforts to bring more eyes to Tampa Bay’s film scene.”
Travolta could not be reached for comment through his publicist or agent.
The Bollywood Oscars are touted as more than an awards show — a bridge builder between India and the Tampa Bay area.
The International Indian Film Academy projects 30,000 tourists will descend upon the city this week and another 800 million will watch the awards, starting with a recorded presentation on the Hindi-language Stars Plus channel June 22.
Travolta is partly responsible for the Tampa Bay area’s growing popularity as a film destination. He pushed for the producers of the “The Punisher,” in which he starred, to use this community for most of its filming, Martinolich said.
“It was not the first film to use Tampa Bay,” Martinolich said, noting that “Cocoon,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “My Girl” came before it.
“But it was the first film in many years to showcase Tampa in a way that made it identifiable to viewers. And he is such a big star that Tampa Bay got excited about the future of film here.”
Then, when Travolta initially joined forces with the Sunscreen Film Festival, he used the local media exposure to promote the importance of tax incentives. He said Florida could become “Hollywood East” if it offered financial breaks to productions.
Today, the state is contemplating offering between $50 million and $200 million a year in tax incentives through 2020 to the production industry.
Travolta has also become the face of the film industry in his hometown of Ocala.
He is credited as the top financial contributor to the restoration of Ocala’s historic Marion Theatre, which reopened in 2007 after going dark for 21 years, and he was the opening night guest of honor on April 3 at Ocala’s inaugural Silver Springs Film Festival.
Travolta will be walking the green carpet prior to the Bollywood Oscars and if the Sunscreen festival is any indication, he’s a star who’s happy to stop and greet fans.
“Travolta’s impact on international cinema is undeniable,” said Sabbas Joseph, director of International Indian Film Academy. “His popularity has grown by leaps and bounds in India and around the world in the last three decades or so. We are honored to have him at the IIFAs.”