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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Promoters hope Bollywood leaves more than memories

TAMPA — It still seems like a dream to Ram Jakhotia — the four days of events that made up the International Indian Film Academy Awards and Weekend.

Raised in the poor Indian village of Jayal, where school was the shade of a tree and there were no roads or electricty, the 77-year-old Jahkotia found himself walking a green carpet Saturday night among India’s biggest celebrities.

Jakhotia’s son is Ravi Jakhotia, a Chamberlain High School graduate known internationally as musician DJ Ravi Drums and a featured performer throughout the four days of Bollywood Oscars events.

It gave him a passport to treat his parents to VIP status.

“I never imagined this would happen for my family,” Jakhotia said. “I am so proud of my son. I’ll never forget it.”

The film academy’s organizers promised they would provide an event that would leave the city with a lifetime of memories. Time will tell if they delivered but there are certainly scenes to choose from — 8,000 fans at Curtis Hixon Park for the kickoff party, throngs of squealing fans as celebrities moved from venue to venue around Tampa, and an awe-inspiring stage show for the awards ceremony Saturday night.

The question now is whether the extravaganza left behind anything other than memories.

The Indian academy projected an immediate economic impact of up to $30 million, from some 30,000 visitors. One of its main local promoters revised that guess down Monday, to $15 million.

“A lot of cash was spent,” said Santiago Corrada, CEO and president of tourism promoter Visit Tampa Bay.

Still, the real economic impact will come from global exposure for the Tampa area, he said.

“I think it will pay dividends through tourism, trade and economic development opportunities,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

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The five-hour Bollywood Oscars show will be edited to three hours and broadcast June 22 to hundreds of millions of viewers on the Hindi-language Stars Plus channel, promoters say. It is carried by Verizon FIOS and Dish TV.

Every actor and director addressing the audience from stage, Corrada said, mentioned Tampa in their remarks.

“All night, it was Tampa, Tampa, Tampa, Tampa,” he said. “The world will know the name Tampa when the show is watched.”

Corrada hopes to show the awards at Curtis Hixon Park so people can watch it together.

Many questioned why Tampa was chosen as the first U.S. city to host this international event. The reply from local leaders has been, “Why not?”

A more direct answer may be Tampa philanthropist Kiran Patel.

The government of Ontario, Canada, had to kick in $12 million in 2011 to help bear costs for the show in Toronto. Hillsborough County and the state of Florida spent only a total of $1.7 million, all spent marketing Tampa to Bollywood fans, and Tampa provided in-kind services such as discounts on venue rental fees.

Patel took care of much of the rest.

He would not provide an exact dollar amount during an interview Monday, but said it was substantially more than $9 million estimated by some people involved in the festival.

For Patel, a Zambia native of Indian heritage, it was money well spent. His goal of making the Indian culture part of Tampa’s mainstream culture is closer than before.

He cited the opening night concert Wednesday in Curtis Hixon Park that drew more than 8,000 people.

“Up to 40 percent of the people in that crowd were non-Indian. And you could see them all dancing and having fun,” he said. “What a beautiful way to bring the cultures together.”

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Jakhotia said Patel purchased blocks of tickets to distribute to people in the Indian community who could not afford to go.

“I know of quite a few seniors who went because of his generosity,” Jakhotia said. “It was a great gesture on his part.”

Corrada said he is confident the audience at Raymond James was close to 30,000, which would be the largest live crowd to ever watch the Bollywood Oscars.

The stars were impressed with Tampa, said international talent manager Rajesh Mansukhani, who was here with his client, Bollywood dance choreographer Shiamak Davar — the designer of some Bollywood Oscars’ performances.

“Tampa is beautiful, but more importantly was very receptive,” Mansukhani said. “When you go to a strange city so far from home, it can get lonely. But Tampa was different. We always felt like we belonged because everyone was so excited for us to be there.”

For some, Bollywood’s Tampa invasion is already paying off.

Musician Ravi Jakhotia thinks he left a legacy behind with his song “Do Da Tampa.”

“It could be Tampa’s ‘New York New York,’” he said. “It’s upbeat party music, which is what Tampa is all about. I can see it being played on a loop at next year’s Gasparilla Parade on a number of floats.”

Tampa’s Roshni Patel said her Bollywood news website, UrbanAsian.com, saw a record number of readers throughout the months leading up the big event and she and her team made contacts that will help it to continue to grow.

“We met CEOs interested in advertising with us and writers from around the world who want to work for us,” Roshni Patel said. “Things will only get better from here.”

Corrada, on the other hand, has put Bollywood in his rearview mirror.

On Monday morning, 24 hours or so after the final fireworks exploded in the sky over Raymond James Stadium, he and his staff at Visit Tampa Bay were back at in the office working on something beside Bollywood for the first time in 10 months.

“We have conventions and shows and you name it coming up,” he said. “And I have meetings to get new conventions and shows to Tampa. You’re only as good as your next big thing.”

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