Thousands of boisterous Bollywood fans surrounded the Rogers Centre hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite South Asian luminaries Saturday, when India's version of the Oscars promised to thrill movie fans with a performance-laden gala of song, dance and glamour.
The star-studded bash was the marquee event of the International Indian Film Academy celebrations, an annual touring spectacle meant to promote the South Asian entertainment industry abroad.
Its North American debut drew enthusiastic fans to various events throughout the Toronto area, including a film festival, music workshop, business forum, and rock concert.
Shrieking Bollywood fans began arriving hours in advance of Saturday's awards show and pressed up against metal barriers set up near a red carpet, renamed the green carpet to reflect the festival's eco-commitments.
"Being away from our country and hosting this in our native town is such a huge opportunity and such privilege for all of us," said movie fan Arti Sharma, a 33-year-old marketing consultant.
"When you're away from your country it makes (this) all the bigger for you and the passion comes out. You're here to see some of the finest movie stars that you've not seen in person."
Roughly 16,000 of the 22,000 tickets available to the public sold out in minutes.
Sharma says she paid $500 for her seat and came early in the hopes of meeting her idol, Shah Rukh Khan. The square-jawed matinee idol is considered as famous, if not more so, as Tom Cruise.
"I am a real fan of Shah Rukh - if Shah Rukh can get to this then he should know I'm a big fan of his," said Sharma, who came with more than 15 family members all from the Toronto-area.
Organizers say more than 200 filmmakers and actors came from India and overseas to attend the celebrations, including Slumdog Millionaire actor Anil Kapoor and Bend It Like Beckham star Anupam Kher.
"Shah Rukh Khan is the best!" exclaimed Geetu Singh, dressed in a cocktail dress like many of the fans gathered at the Rogers Centre. Others wandered the parking lot in glittering saris and suits.
Her friend Ginni Dhaliwal said she came from Vancouver after being offered a ticket by her cousin. The trip required her to also buy plane tickets for her kids and mother, but Dhaliwal says she gladly covered the expense.
"I paid about $1,400 for the (plane) tickets," said Dhaliwal.
"I had to miss work but it was totally worth it, totally worth it."
The awards gala is considered India's biggest media event and one of world's most-watched televised spectacles. It can be seen on OMNI on July 24.
Previous bashes have been held in London, Dubai, Amsterdam, Singapore, Bangkok, and Johannesburg.
A retrospective honouring the career of Raj Kapoor takes place Sunday as a joint program between the IIFAs and the Toronto International Film Festival.
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