Six reasons the International India Film Academy Awards are in Toronto

Six reasons the International India Film Academy Awards are in Toronto

If you encounter more than the usual number of bhangra dancers on the streets this month, that’s because the International Indian Film Academy Awards are taking over the Rogers Centre on June 25. The gala will be watched by 600 million people in 60 countries and do more to raise Toronto’s profile than several G20 weekends. Forty thousand tourists will descend on the city’s hotels, and in the background, government and business officials will meet to build trade ties between Ontario and India. Infinitely more exciting are the many Indian movie stars who’ll be here, strolling in and out of the Thompson Hotel, signing autographs and, if we’re lucky, travelling the streets by elephant. Here, a primer to all things Bollywood in Toronto.

(Image: Courtesy of Bowmanville Zoo) 

1. We have a huge built-in fan base
An estimated 700,000 South Asians live in the GTA, and they’re hard-core Bollywood fans. In 2007, a thousand people waited eight hours behind a blockade at the Elgin to catch a glimpse of stars Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan at the 2007 world premiere of the epic Guru.

2. We make big-budget Bollywood movies
In 2010, two major Bollywood productions were shot here: Breakaway and Thank You. An  $11.3-million rom-com, Thank You was filmed in Vancouver, Mumbai and Toronto and mashes the three cities together in one giant Franken-opolis. Toronto landmarks like the St. Lawrence Market, Yonge-Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square play a starring role.

3. We know how to party
Twenty bhangra dancers, wearing brightly coloured silks and more gold than Mr. T, perform in Thank You’s finale. The scene, choreographed by Brampton’s Divya Kumar, unfolds on the roof of a seven-storey parking garage at the corner of Lake Shore and Lower Simcoe and features a gun battle followed swiftly—and strangely—by a wedding.

4. Our Indian music scene is cool
Sixty South Asian artists have recorded albums in Vikas Kohli’s Mississauga basement studio (Kohli lives upstairs with his mom)—including bhangra artist Mika Singh. His 2008 song “Apun Ke Saath” was the first Canadian-produced song to be performed at the IIFA awards. The stars like to record in Mississauga because it allows them to work semi-incognito.

5. Our politicians are bullish about Bollywood
Dalton McGuinty lured the IIFA to Toronto by pledging $12 million. Bollywood spends a reported $125 MILLION producing movies abroad every year; Queen’s Park wants Ontario to land a big piece of that. The feds are also devotees of Bollywood: Stephen and Laureen Harper, in a bid to win the South Asian vote, made an April 8 stop at the SilverCity cinemas in Brampton to attend the Canadian premiere of Thank You. (The assembled movie fans wanted autographs from the film’s actors and largely ignored an uncomfortable-looking Harper.)

6. We have elephants available for rent
Limba, the Bowmanville Zoo’s 48-year-old Asian elephant, appears in Breakaway, a movie that reportedly cost $12 million and stars comedian Russell Peters, Ludacris and 25-year-old Toronto native Vinay Virmani (whose father, CEO of Cargojet airlines and former Colborne Lane backer Ajay Virmani, is one of the movie’s producers). Limba’s day rate: $6,000-$12,000