The performances, the celebrities, the antics, the venues — Singapore, Toronto, Malaysia — it's business as usual, Bollywood style, at the International Indian Film Academy awards.
Dazzling with the stars
Hot on the heels of the New York Indian Film Festival and a much talked-about Indian presence at the recently concluded Cannes film festival, the three-day International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards are due to kick off on Thursday in Singapore.
Although viewer fatigue would be understandable, the line-up of performances at the various IIFA events promises a grand, pompous spectacle, typical of Bollywood.
The 13th edition will be free of the intellectual burden of jury selections, art house and independent cinema, but it will offer Bollywood celebrities galore and envelope-tearing suspense at the culmination — Saturday night's awards show.
IIFA does not pretend to be anything other than an out-and-out popular cinema award. The ticketed affair is all about glitz, glamour, the stars who are attending and those who will perform. It is also a truly "popular" award because the winners are chosen on the basis of worldwide polling that is open to all.
The event is also about selling Bollywood overseas, one festival at a time. Andre Timmins is one of the three founder-directors at Wizcraft International Entertainment, which organises the IIFA, Filmfare Awards and Miss India pageants.
"There are two things truly international about India - one is cricket and the other is Bollywood. We found Indian movies were being watched by the second and third generation Indians overseas, but our cinema is more global than that. Why don't we take cinema - most [films] are shot abroad - abroad in a bigger way to celebrate our cinema? In our films, in just three hours, we have emotions, comedy, tragedy, drama, good versus evil, failure and triumph. That was one of our aims - how do we connect India to the world, to introduce an India that is striding forward?" asks Timmins.
The awards began back in 2000, with a one-day, unticketed event in London. Laughing, Timmins recalls that the industry was sceptical and predicted failure. Instead, ratings for the first event were as high as the popular UK TV show EastEnders.
"And in 2001, what raised the bar for me were the newspaper headlines after the Sun City [South Africa] show, which said 'Bollywood has arrived' with a photo of Hrithik Roshan's performance," says Timmins.
The IIFA, which is marking a return to Singapore as the host city, has since grown into a weekend-long bash that includes movie premieres, film screenings, conferences, performances, publicity gimmicks and, ultimately, the awards. Last year, more than 700 members of the media covered the event in Toronto, with 100 tickets selling every 10 seconds and 21,000 people attending the awards gala at the massive Rogers Centre in the city's downtown.
The impact on cities hosting the event can be seen long after they are over. "Today, in Toronto they have a road named Raj Kapoor Crescent and another the Bollywood Drive," says Timmins. "I might even say that this will have a larger viewership than the F1 race in India."
The sale of tickets for Hindi cinema reportedly grew by 35 per cent in the six months after the IIFA was held in the UK. Hindi films in South Africa moved from matinées to weekends in mainstream theatres post-awards, and now companies are competing for distribution rights. The Malaysia event sparked a 50 per cent increase in the value of rights for Indian cinema and the collection from exhibition and sale of non-pirated DVDs.
"After the Singapore experience in 2004, we brought in the element of business in film - marketing and distribution," says Timmins. "We understood the brand better because we researched all the numbers and impacts we had, that helped us understand that it wasn't just awards but about delivering India to Singapore. On average, about 30 per cent of the attendees are foreigners."
On the business side, IIFA says the event helps filmmakers who want to shoot in host countries get rebates and permits. For example, Singapore, which welcomed Indian filmmakers after the 2004 event, also provided the setting for the science-fiction, superhero film Krrish two years later.
While deals might be struck and tourism boards might rejoice in the spike in bookings and spending, any Bollywood show, in the end, has to deliver the star quotient.
This year at IIFA, Shahid Kapoor will pair up to host with the witty Farhan Akhtar, while Chitrangada Singh and Ayushmann Khurana will anchor IIFA Rocks, the musical event on Friday.
"This is the first time I am going to be anchoring a show," says Singh. "I have just met Ayushmann so we are still working on the chemistry. He has hosted many shows so he is going to take care of the slip-ups."
The weekend will include fashion shows, performances by Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapoor and Mika Singh, as well as the premiere of Dibakar Banerjee's much-anticipated film Shanghai. One event Timmins is anticipating is the "first look" of Kamal Haasan's thriller Vishwaroop. Haasan, one of the most acclaimed of India's actors, is among a number of stars representing a thriving industry in the south. He will be joined by A R Rahman, Radikaa SharathKumar, Shreya Saran, the Telugu film producer K S Rama Rao, Suresh Babu and Allu Arvin.
Thursday night will mark the premiere of the Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol and Kalki Koechlin political thriller Shanghai.
"The concept of Shanghai appealed to me and I am truly looking forward to the release of the film," says Hashmi. "IIFA's journey over the past 12 years has opened many doors for the Indian film industry and we feel fortunate that our film will enter that elite list."
What to look out for
• Farhan Akhtar and Shahid Kapoor as hosts
• Chitrangada Singh and Ayushmann Khurana will anchor IIFA Rocks
• Musical performances by Mika Singh and the composer duo Vishal-Shekhar
• "Bollywood the Greatest Love Story", hosted by Shekhar Kapoor and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, showcasing 100 years of Indian cinema
• The popular choreographer Prabhu Deva tackling dance moves for the show for the first time in his career
• A Ferrari race with Boman Irani and Sharman Joshi, pegged to the forthcoming movie Ferrari ki Sawari
• A father and son performance by Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor
• Performances by Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor for their forthcoming film Teri Meri Kahaani
• No One Killed Jessica
• The Dirty Picture
• Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Actor in a lead role
• Amitabh Bachchan for Aarakshan
• Salman Khan for Bodyguard
• Shah Rukh Khan for Don 2
• Ranbir Kapoor for Rockstar
• Ajay Devgn for Singham
• Hrithik Roshan for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Actress in a lead role
• Priyanka Chopra for 7 Khoon Maaf
• Kareena Kapoor for Bodyguard
• Mahie Gill for Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster
• Kangna Ranaut for Tanu Weds Manu
• Vidya Balan for The Dirty Picture
• Raj Kumar Gupta for No One Killed Jessica
• Imtiaz Ali for Rockstar
• Rohit Shetty for Singham
• Milan Luthria for The Dirty Picture
• Zoya Akhtar for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara