Some skipped work, while others played hooky from school, all to get a glimpse of the man who just might be the biggest movie star on the planet.
On Friday, hundreds of people waited eagerly at Vancouver International Airport for the arrival of Shah Rukh Khan, a star many say is bigger than George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
Mr. Khan is in Vancouver for the Times of India Film Awards, which take place Saturday night at BC Place, a taxpayer-funded event that has generated ample fanfare as well as some controversy. Many stars attending TOIFA have already arrived, but none have the widespread appeal of Mr. Khan.
“He’s the biggest star in the world, bigger than Brad Pitt,” said Indeep Jawanda, a fan who came out to the airport on Friday. “I just want to see him, I’ve been watching him since I was a little kid.”
Mr. Jawanda says Bollywood fans revere their stars more than Hollywood fans do, with Bollywood cinema reaching the smallest Indian villages.
Children stood eagerly with autograph pads at the airport, beside men and women in their 70s who were there to see the star they’ve been watching for more than two decades. Young women in their 20s, of course, made up the majority of the fans waiting for Mr. Khan’s arrival.
“He’s like all the big Hollywood actors together in one situation,” said Simran Narwal, another fan, who thinks Mr. Khan is a heartthrob. “He can do drama, he can do comedy, he can do action, he can do horror. He’s just really good in everything.”
Mr. Khan, 47, has appeared in more than 50 movies dating back to the early 1990s.
And when he finally appeared from behind a black curtain, his fans erupted, with security guards having to push the frenzied crowds back to keep them from knocking over a metal barricade – the only thing that stood between them and their favourite star.
Mr. Khan slowly walked from one end of the barricade to the other. Some fans got the chance to take a picture with him, while others handed him flowers. There were those who simply stood there and wept as he made his way by.
Various Indian media outlets were also on hand, and the designated media area was almost as wild as the crowd, with photographers, cameramen and reporters elbowing one another, all vying to get the perfect shot of Mr. Khan or ask him a question.
But despite the enthusiasm on display at the airport on Friday, thousands of tickets remain unsold for the awards event Saturday night. Early Friday, Laura Ballance, a spokesperson for the event, said about 7,000 tickets remained unsold out of a total of approximately 30,000 seats at BC Place. Organizers do expect some additional sales at the door.
According to Ms. Ballance, only the floor and lower bowl were initially going to be used for the event, but after a “virtual sellout” within a couple of hours of the first release of tickets, a decision was made to open the upper bowl, and the stage was reconfigured repeatedly to allow for more seating.
The TOIFAs have also been involved in several controversies. Organizers of the long-running International Indian Film Academy Awards accused the B.C. government of choosing the TOIFAs over their event because IIFA refused to stage their awards before the provincial election.
In March, TOIFA officials apologized after a staff member requested that people of South Asian heritage not be hired as security guards or drivers for the event because they would be star-struck by Indian film stars. And in Surrey, business groups are criticizing TOIFA for failing to hold any events in that city, where 30 per cent of the population is South Asian.