Indian film awards frenzy ramps up in Toronto

The frenzy surrounding India's globe-trotting, movie-awards spectacular kicks into high gear in Toronto on Saturday with an open-air cultural festival leading into the 12th annual IIFA Awards.

The frenzy surrounding India's globe-trotting, movie-awards spectacular kicks into high gear in Toronto on Saturday with an open-air cultural festival leading into the 12th annual IIFA Awards.

The City of Toronto's Samsara outdoor festival will take over the areas surrounding downtown's Rogers Centre, where the International Indian Film Academy Awards take place Saturday night.

More than 50 acts will celebrate South Asian music, dance and fashion, performing on three stages and roving the area throughout the afternoon.

"The tickets for the actual awards show sold out in 10 minutes — 25,000 tickets. Boom. Gone. We also know there are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people coming down just to see the green carpet program. So we said, 'Let's build an event for the public [that doesn't] have a ticket. Give them some excitement and let them be part of the Bollywood experience,'" Harold Mah, event support manager for the city of Toronto, told CBC News.

Saturday's Samsara festival, movie screenings taking place across the greater Toronto area, industry workshops and film news conferences are all leading up to the weekend's climax: the green carpet followed by the awards gala.

"[The IIFA weekend] is a very special event. …It's about the industry. It's for the industry. Everybody — the crews, the actors, the directors — all of them come under one roof and celebrate this amazing festival," said music producer Salim Merchant, a past winner and 2011 nominee who works with his brother Sulaiman.

"It's a union of music and movies," Merchant said, adding that because the festivities travel to a different country each year, "it's also about friendship and the collaboration of two countries."

Performance-filled gala

The awards gala itself — which is being offered live on pay-per-view for the first time this year — will be an hours-long telecast packed with comedy gags, glittery fashions, flashy dance numbers and vibrant music.

"Before the show, it's frightening" because more than 600 million people worldwide tune in each year, said comic actor Boman Irani, who is co-hosting the awards for a fourth time with fellow actor Ritesh Deshmukh.

"We're out there making fools of ourselves, making fun of people, taking the mickey out of people, dressing up in all kinds of strange outfits, going out on a limb — trying to make sure we bring a smile, if not a laugh, to people's faces. That's never the easiest thing in the world," he added.

Bringing the awards show to Toronto — the roving gala's first-ever stop in North America — is "uncharted territory" and "a huge step for us on every front."

The mafioso drama Once Upon a Time in Mumbai leads the night's contenders with 12 nominations.

Indian film superstar Shah Rukh Khan greets a mob of fans in Toronto on Friday. (CBC)

Other high-profile competitors include the action blockbuster Dabangg, political thriller Raajneeti, wedding-themed romantic comedy Band Baaja Baaraat and the international drama My Name is Khan. The latter is headlined by superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who has been greeted by screaming fans at every turn and was honoured by both Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Friday.

"A who's who of the Indian film industry is here," Irani explains.

During the awards show, "the camera just pans towards [the famous faces] and there's hysteria. When their names are announced, there is a mini eruption. When they get onto the stage, the roof just blows a mile high. People are really, really excited to see their beloved stars."

Fan pays $10,000 for VIP tickets

Bollywood fan Amisha Agarwal travelled to Toronto to take in the IIFA events. So strong is her passion for South Asian film, that Agarwal paid $10,000 for tickets so she could secure a VIP pass and top seats to Saturday night’s awards ceremony at Rogers Centre.

Agarwal was interviewed on CBC News Network on Saturday and said seeing her favourite Bollywood stars up close is well worth the cost. She was interviewed outside the Royal York hotel, where many stars are staying.

"There’s just so much excitement and it’s so good to be a part of it," she said. "I have been planning this for months, and I am kind of sad it’s coming to an end.

"Bollywood means a lot to us. I have grown up watching Bollywood films since I was a baby. I know it cost a lot of money, but we work very hard and this is something we get to experience once in a lifetime.

"I am a Bollywood dancer and I love, love, love watching performances and I’m obsessed with Bollywood actors and actresses. Bollywood is so much fun, it’s like a fantasy world and colourful and the performances are very different from Hollywood.

"Hollywood is very realistic, but the colour and the glitz and the glam in Bollywood is so great to be part of."

Agarwal was particularly excited about attending the award show.

"I will be wearing a gorgeous sari and sitting a couple of rows from the front," she said. "Hopefully some stars will be beside me and that will be a neat experience."