A bald man, who looks like a younger version of Rakesh Roshan, stands with a gun pointed up. Two hot apsaras kiss his both his feet. That’s the banner — one after another across the airport terminal — that greets you as you enter Toronto. The gent isn’t James Bond — just a poor impersonation of a Rajinikanth-like ‘Bollywood’ hero. The fellow is there to announce IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) weekend in the Canadian financial centre. Most regular visitors would be confused by his invitation, as some may have been, looking at a rather impatient crowd outside the airport's arrival gate.
The fans were screaming over actors Anushka Sharma and Madhavan, arguably second-rung on the ladder of stardom, but apparently enough to keep the appearance of a frenzy going. Actually, way more than enough for excitement.
We realise this as we walk past, or get a smoke, outside the magnificent Fairmont York Royal Hotel. This is where the heroes, heroines have checked in. They walk in and out of the revolving door, mainly for the attention. There are a couple of dozen Canadian-Indian fans posted behind a barricade through the day. And pretty much everyone gets an ovation.
Aarti Chhabria? Unless you were some trivia junkie, you wouldn’t quite know who she is. “Aarti, Aarti, Aarti...,” young Indian geeks chorus aloud when they see her here. She steps out to give autographs! One film actor called Nikhil Dwivedi had met with a similar response. Rajeev Kapoor, Sonu Sood, Chunky Pandey were the better-received, more massive stars earlier in the day. This place could give anyone delusions of rock-stardom.
Neighbours in Lokhandwala, beware. Sabbas Joseph from Wizcraft, organisers of this annual global event, says, “Online ticket counter for IIFA awards opened at 12 noon on January 28. Tickets were sold out by 12.08 pm. No one even knew who the performing stars were then.” Not surprised.
“Do this in your house, dirty the place where you come from,” cursed the old Air India aunty, the ever unfriendly hostess on board the national carrier. The woman being screamed at was a passenger. She’d probably paid half the aunty’s monthly salary for this trip. She didn’t understand English, didn’t say a word. She was merely trying to trash her wafers wrapper in the wrong bin.
Aunty continued with her terrible remarks directed at the poor Indian passenger, until she realised she was too loud, and that other Indians around were the ones paying their taxes for this racism as well. Angry auntyji forced us to eat when we didn’t want to, barked at our friend who wanted a drink, generally scowled all the way from Mumbai to Toronto, while we helped ourselves at the kitchen.
Air India is also IIFA’s official sponsor. They released a special statue of the mascot Maharaja here, with his head tilted sideways, eyes closed, moustache twirled up, holding an IIFA trophy in his hand. We know why the Maharaja’s head’s tilted. Anybody’s would be, if they were stuck in an economy seat for 17 hours flat. But why is this cuddly man sleeping in the statue? Probably getting nightmares of one of his aunties spanking the hell out of him on board. Hurts!
Politics of Bollywood
Dalton McGuinty is the premier of Ontario, which would make him the equivalent of the governor of an American state. McGuinty was in Mumbai earlier in January to announce Toronto as the venue of IIFA this year.
The paparazzo went wild with his presence, he recalls. He was glad, until one of the photographers finally requested him to step aside a bit and said, “You’re ruining my shot of Celina Jaitly!” This is when, McGuinty says, he figured “Indian cinema was about more than glamour”. Really?
The state government clearly has supported this Bollywood show. Why? It helps. McGuinty says several Bollywood stars have told him he’s already a celebrity in India. A picture of Anil Kapoor hugging him was all over Indian press once. He knows now what his campaign slogan should say: “Am with Kapoor.”
Given his re-election bid is scheduled for next Fall, and 700,000 South Asians call this North American country their home, the premier’s campaign should find him quite a few voters. While the local newspapers haven’t quite gone gaga over the event, it gets serious spread in the niche entertainment press. Cable television has been covering it reasonably well. The city’s top paper Toronto Star (they being one of the sponsors — a necessary disclaimer) reveal how significant it is that IIFA is being held in their town. They call it India’s Oscars. Well.