DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK, just imagine for a moment if Hollywood moved the Oscars to Munich or Minsk. Name an international city. No plans for that, don't worry. But India's Bollywood film industry has been trying to increase its international appeal by taking its annual awards show on the road. And this week, the International Indian Film Academy Awards are being held in Florida.
Bollywood is known for romantic, over-the-top musicals. The glittering stars and legions of fans have descended on Tampa. So has NPR's Greg Allen.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's the first time the International Indian Film Academy - or IIFA - Awards have ever been held in the U.S. And at nearly all of the events held this week in downtown Tampa, the soundtrack has been throbbing Indian pop.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ALLEN: At an outdoor dance concert, several thousand people, mostly Indian-Americans, gathered at a park on Tampa's waterfront. DJs provided the music. There were food vendors, families on blankets, and even a flash mob. A couple of dozen young people, led by Davir Shaktawat and Arti Prathap, broke into a choreographed dance routine. How did you come up with the dance moves? Where did they come from?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Bollywood. We just watch a lot of it and it's our dance, you know. Like, dance is a very important part of all of our lives here, so this is just us, you know?
ALLEN: In the past, these Bollywood awards have been held in international cities like Bangkok, Amsterdam and Singapore. Tampa, although on one of Florida's most beautiful bays and experienced with hosting large gatherings, isn't exactly an international capital. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says one selling point for the Indian Film Academy was how well the city did two years ago hosting the Republican Convention.
MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN: They wanted to introduce the Bollywood brand to the United States. It had never been here before, so they picked a city where there was a big Indian-American community, with the biggest media market in the state of Florida. So it made sense for a lot of reasons, and one thing we know how to do is put on a good show.
ALLEN: But even the mayor concedes, a GOP convention is nothing like the Bollywood awards.
BUCKHORN: The Republican convention looked like - to me - a bunch of stuffy, old, white guys in suits. This is nothing but glitz and glam and lights and music and beautiful people, actors, beautiful fans who want to touch and see their stars.
ALLEN: Indian-Americans and some non-Indian fans have flocked to the Bollywood events this week. Tickets to tomorrow night's awards spectacular go from $100 into the thousands. More than 20,000 people are expected. IIFA estimates the worldwide TV audience in the hundreds of millions.
But there are also red carpet events this week, where fans can see their favorite stars up close. At the outdoor dance concert, Kirwan and Sherry Madray and their three sons had just seen one of the biggest stars, Anil Kapoor.
SHERRY MADRAY: We're so excited.
ALLEN: Do you see many Bollywood movies?
KIRWAN MADRAY: Yes. All the time.
SHERRY MADRAY: Every Friday night we sit down and we watch movies with our boys.
KIRWIN MADRAY: And the boys love it.
ALLEN: Kapoor is well-known even to Western audiences for his role in "Slumdog Millionaire," emphatically not a Bollywood musical. Kapoor was everywhere in downtown Tampa this week, dancing, cutting ribbons, and doing his best to charm fans and the media.
ANIL KAPOOR: Congratulations to all the people of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay, we love you, you're the best.
ALLEN: To attract the stars of India's film industry to Tampa, it takes more than charm; it takes money. The city and IIFA got significant financial help from a local philanthropist, Kirwan Patel. Patel is a Tampa cardiologist who admits he's not a huge fan of Bollywood films, but he says he jumped at the chance to help bring a wellspring of Indian culture to his hometown.
KIRWAN PATEL: Culture and art is a great medium to cross barriers of race, religion, ethnicity. And I felt that this is a good way of promoting a cultural spirit of India, and introducing it to the United States.
ALLEN: At all of the Bollywood events this week, the cultural spirit of India was irrepressible. Smita Mehta and three of her friends were part of the mob surrounding Anil Kapoor as he made his way off stage at one of this week's events.
SMITA MEHTA: He's actually a very good actor. I saw his movies.
ALLEN: Yeah. Is he the biggest star here this weekend?
MEHTA: Actually, he is not. But so far, yes. He's the only one right now.
ALLEN: Mehta and her friends paid $100 each for their tickets to tomorrow night's awards ceremony. She may be sitting far from the stage, but she says she'll be able to see her favorite Bollywood stars. She's bringing binoculars. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tampa.
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