TAMPA — Representatives of the International Indian Film Academy have been boasting for months that its awards events in Tampa in April will turn the city into a household name in India.
The event, dubbed the “Bollywood Oscars,” is already making good on its promise.
Vidya Balan, one of Bollywood's top starlets, was in Tampa on Friday as part of a four-city IIFA promotional tour of America that also included New York, Houston and Orlando. Each city has a large Indian population.
Rumors of her possible pregnancy were splashed on pages of gossip and entertainment publications in India on Friday. Most stories mentioned she was in Tampa, turning the city into the center of the Bollywood universe for the day.
While she did not address the pregnancy rumors at a press conference at the David A. Straz Center, she confirmed she will be co-hosting an IIFA Film Workshop/Masterclass alongside Kevin Spacey on April 26 at the Hilton in downtown Tampa.
Balan said the presence of the International Indian Film Academy - the events will be held April 23-26 - has garnered positive publicity throughout India for Tampa.
“You are going to have to give us an honorary citizenship,” she said of the influx of Indian tourists she thinks will come to the Tampa Bay area following the four days of events.
The televised awards ceremony on April 26 at Raymond James Stadium is expected to draw more than 800 million viewers around the world.
IIFA Director Sabbas Joseph said that a year ago, few in India knew where Tampa was. Today, he said, they know about Bern's Steak House and the Columbia Restaurant.
The Bollywood Oscars are promoted as a time to honor the best in Indian cinema, but it is also a marketing tool. The awards are never held in India but travel each year to a new city. In doing so, Bollywood is introduced to new demographics, helping the industry continue to grow globally.
The film academy touts the U.S. as the second largest contributor to Bollywood's international box office. Early ticket sales to the big awards ceremony back that claim as more than 20,000 of the 25,000 available tickets have already been purchased.
IFFA estimates that only 5 percent of the sales will come from India and up to 65 percent from the U.S., with the Tampa Bay area accounting for 40 percent.
Even with those figures, though, starlet Balan's appearance in Tampa showed that the gaudiest stars in Bollywood are far from household names here.
Balan appeared at downtown Tampa's Joe Chillura Courthouse Square during lunchtime. A three-time IIFA award winner and beloved humanitarian in India, Balan was introduced as Bollywood's answer to Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston but a crowd of only a couple hundred - mostly Indian Americans - was there to greet her and enjoy Indian music and dance performed by Tampa's Indian community.
Ajit Kumar is the consulate general of India, based in Atlanta, Ga., and has been to several IIFA award ceremonies. He said many past host cities were more knowledgeable of the Bollywood industry than Tampa but said said he was confident that by the time the event arrives in April, Tampa will be on the Bollywood bandwagon.
Tampa residents still have the opportunity to attend Bollywood events.
Tickets are still available for the closing night awards, and tickets go on sale on Saturday for the Magic of the Movies & Technical Awards - honoring those who work behind the cameras - to be held April 25 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. Tickets for both are available through Ticketmaster.
Tampa'a Kiran Patel, a driving force behind bringing IIFA here, said residents will have to act fast if they want tickets.
“Never will an event of this type be held in the United States again.”