Pump up the bhangra and shake out your saris. Vancouver has been shortlisted as one of two possible venues for the next International Indian Film Academy Awards. And if the bid is successful, this dazzling, multimillion-dollar production -- with its steamy song sequences, madcap dance numbers, screaming fans and Mumbai glitterati -- will roll out the red carpet on Canada's wild West Coast in April.
"Everything is in place. We're just waiting for a green signal from your government before we make our decision," says IIFA senior manager Archana Trasy, speaking over the phone yesterday from Bombay.
The Indian film industry is the world's most prolific by far, producing more than 800 movies a year, which gross upward of $500-million (U.S.) internationally. The IIFA Awards, often referred to as the Oscars of Bollywood, were established four years ago as a way of promoting Indian films to an even wider global audience and creating partnerships with filmmakers abroad.
The three-day event, which includes a trade forum, glamorous parties, film premieres, cricket matches, charity events and the final evening awards ceremony, is held in a different foreign locale each year. The inaugural ceremony kicked off at the Millennium Dome in London in 2000, attracting a star-studded roster of presenters and performers from East and West, including Angelina Jolie, Kylie Minogue, Jackie Chan, Lata Mangeshkar (India's leading movie singer), Anupam Kher and Shah Rukh Khan (both legendary Bollywood actors).
Succeeding ceremonies in Sun City, South Africa, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were broadcast live to approximately 20 million viewers in 80 countries.
"If it becomes a reality, this will be very exciting for Vancouver," says Richard K. Lowy, creative director of Production Group International, a Vancouver-based event agency vying for the Canadian production contract.
Based on previous years, Lowy estimates the event could draw about 250 of India's top stars, directors and producers to Vancouver, plus more than 200 international reporters.
"The academy is more than willing to promote Vancouver as the home of the 2010 Olympics," he adds excitedly. "The potential benefits for our film and tourism industries are huge. Opportunities like this do not come around very often."
Among the vast plethora of Bollywood award events, IIFA is recognized as the largest and most credible, thanks to its high-profile board members and a strict voting procedure, which is monitored by the audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Organized by Wizcraft International, a leading event-management company in India, the event includes several such large corporate sponsors as Samsung, Sony and Pepsi.
Now that Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia, have been dropped from the long list of potential host cities, Vancouver and Las Vegas are the two final contenders. Trasy says both cities have their advantages.
"This will be our fifth anniversary," she explains. "To hold our event in the capital of entertainment would be a great benchmark for our brand. But there is already so much entertainment going on [in Las Vegas] We would just be one of many shows. Whereas in Vancouver, we would definitely stand out."
The success of the Vancouver bid largely rests on the provincial government's response. The IIFA board will be making a presentation pitch to Premier Gordon Campbell while he is in India next week. Patty Sahota, the British Columbia MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds, met with IIFA members recently in Vancouver and will accompany Premier Campbell on the trade mission.
"I think it would be great for our film industry," Sahota says. "We always look south to the United States, but I think it's important that we start looking at different parts of the world to diversify."
Sahota, however, is not sure the provincial government is willing to make the $500,000 financial commitment IIFA has requested. "We've asked them to give us a more concise proposal with exact dollar figures. In the past, the funds contributed by governments have been different for each city. It would help if more corporate sponsors stepped up."
Sponsorship shouldn't be difficult to get, she notes, given the size of the East Indian community in British Columbia, which numbers approximately one million.
Manjit Pabla, the owner of Himalaya restaurant in Vancouver's Punjabi Market, says the investment would be well worth it.
"It's not just a normal concert. Canada has never seen anything like this before. It will have comedy and magic shows and singers and all the heartthrobs and stars. Half the Indian film industry will be here. People will come from all over to see it. I would pay $400 for a ticket, easy. This is big -- really big."