They call them the "Bollywood Oscars." And in April, tens of thousands of people are expected to stream into the Tampa Bay area to attend the International Indian Film Awards. On Tuesday, a couple of the hottest stars in Indian cinema came to Tampa to kick off ticket sales for its American debut.
The Indian Film awards has only been around for 15 years, but it's quickly become an international affair. And for the first time, it's being held in the U.S. The stars of Bollywood will shine a spotlight on Tampa when they fill Raymond James Stadium and other local venues for three days in April. Two of those stars, former Miss World Priyanka Chopra and "Slumdog Millionaire's" Anil Kapoor were at the Tampa Theatre, and given a language lesson by Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higgenbotham.
"For an old country boy from Plant City, I want to say, Namaste, y'all," he said to laughter. "The international media, the buzz that's there, they realize how important it is having the IIFA awards is for the United States, for Tampa, for this community. And we're going to have an event like you've never seen."
The event's organizers were lauded by Santiago Corrada, president of Visit Tampa Bay.
"It's taken 15 years for IIFA to arrive in the U.S. and we are extremely proud and have a huge responsibility to make this IIFA the biggest and the best ever," he said, "because it's the first one in our country, the first one for Florida, and obviously, the first one for our community."
Dr. Kiran Patel, a Tampa cardiologist and philanthropist, was instrumental in landing the awards.
"The excitement is building up and we look forward to some extremely entertaining and memorable event," he said. "With the goodwill of our community, we look forward to the grandest Indian cinema spectacle that the U.S. have ever seen."
Organizers say that more than 6,500 tickets were snatched up within the first two hours after they went on sale.
The schedule for the awards weekend includes:
• April 23: "IIFA Stomp" Bollywood dance music festival at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, next to the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa.
• April 24: "IIFA Rocks" concert at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.
• April 24 and 25: "IIFA Global Business Forum" at the Tampa Convention Center. This is expected to draw more than 100 CEOs of companies in India, Higginbotham said.
• April 25: "Magic of the Movies & Technical Awards" show at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
• April 26: The 6:30 p.m. awards show at Raymond James Stadium. The arrival of stars on IIFA's trademark green carpet and the awards ceremony are expected to be broadcast to 600 million viewers in 108 countries.
In addition, IIFA's website offers premium packages costing from $10,000 to $25,000 per person. Those include three-day hotel stays, meals, transportation to events, special access and chaperone service, personal photos with the stars and a good deal more.
On January 14, the Patel College of Global Sustainability welcomed Priyanka Chopra, an actress, singer, and winner of the 2000 Miss World pageant, and Anil Kapoor, an actor who starred in Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, for a special tree planting ceremony at the University of South Florida. The stars visited Tampa as part of their three-city American tour promoting the 14th annual International Indian Film Awards that will take place April 24-26 in Tampa Bay. Click on the video below to see their visit to USF, courtesy of the USF Patel Center of Global Sustainability.