Toronto will be the first North American city to be host of Bollywood's version of the Oscars in 2011, a clear nod to the increasing pop-culture clout wielded by the region's large and growing South Asian community.
News of the four-day event, announced in Mumbai Wednesday by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, is a sign of the ethnic broadening of the city's already solid position as a mainstream cinema powerhouse, observers said.
That broadening has been fuelled by a South Asian community now approaching 700,000 in and around Toronto. They not only consume Bollywood movies and music, but have spawned a satellite film industry of their own, complete with acting classes and costume shops in the suburbs west of the city.
"We have Hollywood North," Lucky Sanda, Indian-born founder of a new acting program in Mississauga, said of Toronto's long-held nickname as an outpost for U.S. filmmaking. "Let's make it Bollywood West, too."
The credibility of the International Indian Film Academy Awards, which is expected to draw 500 top players in Indian film, 40,000 visitors to Toronto and a global television audience of more than 350 million, should provide a substantial push toward that goal, Mr. Sanda said. And India's surging economy and 1.1 billion population means massive growth potential for Toronto's expat Bollywood film business.
"It's a huge market," said Mr. Sanda, who worked as a child actor in India, immigrated to Canada and worked as a caterer before launching North America's first Bollywood acting school. "It will benefit everybody."
The awards will not only give aspiring actors and mainstream filmmakers in Canada a chance to make contacts in the Indian film industry, but will introduce Asian-based filmmakers to potential advantages of making movies in Canada, such as high-tech production facilities. "The East and the West are coming together," he said. "It's all one big village now."
Armin Sethi, editor-in-chief of Bollywood Film-Fare Canada, a glossy Toronto-based magazine that claims 90,000 readers, said in an e-mail that the awards event "is definitely another feather to add to the hat of Toronto's ability to capture different ethnicities and give them adequate space to become recognized."
Bollywood stars have become increasingly familiar at events around the city, such as the Toronto International Film Festival, screenings of their films and at multicultural festivals, she said. The city's choice for the awards "definitely highlights the prominence of the presence of Indian culture and its place in the hearts of many Torontonians," Ms. Sethi said.
Previous host cities for the awards include London, Dubai, Johannesburg and Macau.