When Toronto was Bolly-wooed and bowled over

By Radhika Bhirani

Toronto, June 27 (IANS) With its heady cocktail of dance, music and glitterati, the three-day International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) will be etched in the memories of people in Canada's largest city for a long time to come.

The June 23-25 event had all the elements of a mini-Punjabi wedding with fun, frolic and colour poured in generous quantities. Many NRIs played their part by showing up in the best of Indian finery; and for those of other nationalities, it was a perfect window to the wonders of Indian film culture.

"The last time I saw such a turnout for Indians was for the Temptations tour in 2006. But this IIFA event was massive. So many Indians stood united to cheer for Bollywood. It was indeed a memorable experience," Alfreeda Islam, a student here, told IANS.

Day after day, the Fairmont Royal Park hotel here in downtown Toronto saw itself overwhelmed with fans. And it wasn't just Indians who queued up, eager foreigners were equally upbeat about getting a taste of Indian cinema.

The IIFA Weekend kickstarted Thursday with a host of Bollywood celebrities like Boman Irani, Dia Mirza, Riteish Deshmukh, Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu and international artist Jermaine Jackson at the inaugural press conference.

The evening saw a star-studded green carpet event for the world premiere of "Double Dhamaal" at the SilverCity Theatre in Brampton city.

The second day saw the FICCI-IIFA global business forum where dignitaries from both the countries discussed possibilities of boosting tourism, business and co-productions. Around the same time, Ontario had a taste of the phenomena called Shah Rukh Khan.

Hundreds gathered in the lobby of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel to welcome King Khan, one of the most popular stars in Bollywood.

Making his return to the IIFA after a gap of six years, Shah Rukh came despite a knee injury and broke into an impromptu jig the moment he entered the hotel premises. For a lot of fanatics, the glimpse was a "lifetime chance". People flew in from Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago and even Afghanistan, among other places, just so that they could get "as close as it gets" to SRK.

While Shah Rukh's magic continued to charm everyone in the hotel, his friend-turned-foe Salman Khan's debut co-production "Chillar Party" kicked off the IIFA Film Festival, but sans Salman. The actor was supposed to attend the event, but couldn't make it due to his shooting schedule for "Bodyguard".

The Raj Kapoor street naming ceremony also took place on day two of IIFA. Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell gave a warm welcome to the popular Kapoor family - Raj's widow Krishna Raj Kapoor, his sons Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv, daughters Ritu and Reema as well as daughter-in-law Neetu - as she unveiled a placard which read Raj Kapoor Crescent. The placard will be placed on a new street to be built in the city.

There was a lot of waiting for Bollywood fans in the evening with the IIFA Rocks -- a music and fashion event, which left many in awe of what Bollywood is capable of. The Ricoh Coliseum again saw a flurry of fans, vying to see, touch, and talk to their favourite celebrities.

Hosted by Karan Johar and Anushka Sharma, the IIFA Rocks saw a performance by American musician Jermaine, who also teamed up with Indian singer Sonu Niigaam to pay a tribute to his younger brother, late King of Pop Michael Jackson.

The event also saw a fusion of fashion and music as models in creations by Indian designers Rajesh Pratap Singh, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Vikram Phadnis, and Canadian clothing store The Bay, sashayed down the larger than life ramp, with music director trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy playing a medley of their songs in the background.

Showstoppers like Brett Lee, Rahul Khanna, Zayed Khan, Sonakshi Sinha and Neha Dhupia, a retro performance by Dia Mirza, a saucy dance by Mallika Sherawat, an energetic show by Canadian rockers RDB and a rock-qawalli MIX BY Sonu Niigaam enthralled the audience.

The last day saw the coming together of two worlds as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, lyricist Javed Akhtar and composers Vishal Bharadwaj and Salim Merchant conducted a music workshop to share and promote the music of both countries. After an interactive session with the audience, Javed and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy got together to compose live, and Salim Merchant gave an impromptu piano performance.

The evening saw the Roger's Centre filling up with people. There were an estimated 30,000 people outside the grand venue, and they incessantly cheered for each of those who walked the green carpet.

The loudest cheers were heard for Shah Rukh and "Slumdog Millionaire" actor Anil Kapoor. Oscar winner Hilary Swank and actor Cuba Gooding Jr. also made for a surprise element at the event where star power and fan turnout was unlike any edition that IIFA has seen before.

The main show sparkled with scintillating performances, awards distribution and Bollywood magic. But one hopes the buzz caused by IIFA translates into increased tourism and business opportunities in both the countries.

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