Indian film awards hit Toronto

Superstars of Indian film and music have descended on Toronto for the official opening of the International Indian Film Academy Awards and festival.

Superstars of Indian film and music have descended on Toronto for the official opening of the International Indian Film Academy Awards and festival.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty welcomed Indian Consul General Preeti Saran, IIFA members, Indian film stars and world media at the midday opening event at downtown Toronto's Royal York Hotel on Thursday.

McGuinty recalled his visit to Mumbai a few years ago and being enchanted with the lively atmosphere.

"I found myself surrounded by dozens of photographers in the cool night air. The camera flashes in my face were mesmerizing, overwhelming, intoxicating, lovely — until one of the photographers distinctly said to me, "Sir, you're ruining my shot of [Indian actress] Celina Jaitley.' I've never recovered from that," McGuinty said, to laughter.

"But in truth, that night, I truly began to understand what Indian cinema is all about. It's about more than glamour, action and drama. It's about magic … the kind that happens when the lights go down and the stars come out. It's about stories that are universal and that bring us together, that help us celebrate out shared humanity."

Now in its 12th year, the International Indian Film Academy Awards weekend has never been held in India. Instead, organizers choose a different country to travel to each year.

Toronto is the first North American city to host the festivities, often likened to India's version of the Oscars. Past ceremonies have been held in London, Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Dubai, Bangkok and Macao.

The province brought the glitzy, globe-trotting annual awards ceremony to Toronto, its first-ever stop in North America, by pitching in $12 million. Funding was also provided for "buzz" events in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Markham in the past few weeks.

The IIFA weekend — a three-day festival of dance, music, fashion and film culminating in a massive movie awards gala — is expected to draw between 40,000 and 50,000 people to the Greater Toronto Area.

For the awards portion alone, 22,000 fans will attend the gala. According to Ticketmaster, the tickets that went on sale in January sold out in less than 10 minutes.

The weekend's events will include Thursday night's high-profile premiere of the new comedy Double Dhamaal, movie screenings, industry workshops and meetings, autograph signings, dance performances and IIFA Rocks, a massive rock concert and fashion show.

Jermaine Jackson is among the acts who will perform at the Friday night concert, joining Indian singer Sonu Nigam onstage.

Jackson, the elder brother of the late Michael Jackson, described the gig as "a dream come true for me and my family" on Thursday.

"When we first [arrived in] California, we were most entertained every Saturday by Bollywood movies. We were watching you from day one, as we were on the journey to becoming The Jackson Five. We loved the dance, the costumes, the entertainment, the set designs. It's what inspired us a great deal as well."  

Lot of things 'crammed up into a little bit of time'

Saturday night's awards broadcast itself attracts approximately 700 million viewers a year, putting its host city on the map for Indian cinema fans in India itself and across the South Asian Diaspora worldwide.

"Last year was Sri Lanka. The year before was Macao. This year's Toronto, so here I am," South African-based journalist Suchitra Pillai told CBC News.

"When I'm shooting this [event], it's not only doing the red carpet for IIFA. It's doing a whole lot more about the place that we're shooting in," she said, adding that her coverage includes producing elements for a travel show and a cooking show.

Indian film superstar Anil Kapoor is mobbed by fans and media at the IIFA weekend opening news conference in Toronto on Thursday. (Cheryl Krawchuk/CBC)

"[It's] a lot of things crammed up into a little bit of time, but it's exciting."

The City of Toronto is also hosting Samsara, a Saturday afternoon street festival to spread out around Rogers Centre, the site of the awards ceremony.

The weekend celebration will show that Ontario is open to new ideas, new experiences and, above all, new friendships," McGuinty said.

To those "who have never experienced Bollywood magic before, let me say this: prepare to be awed, amazed, energized and moved," he added.

"By the end of it, you'll know the names of Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Anil Kapoor just as well as Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Rachel McAdams."