Some of Bollywood's biggest stars gathered in Toronto on Thursday to kick off the 12th International Indian Film Academy weekend _ held for the first time on North American soil.
A group of Bollywood dancers descended on Toronto's Fairmont Royal York hotel to launch the three-day extravaganza of film, music and fashion that culminates Saturday in the academy's awards ceremony, often described as the Indian Oscars.
"I am thrilled to be a part of yet another IIFA," "Slumdog Millionaire" actor Anil Kapoor said at a press conference. "It is an event that I look forward to every single year, and I could not be happier that they have chosen Toronto as the host city for this year's celebrations."
IIFA organizers have taken the awards ceremony around the world in a bid to expose the genre to more audiences and open up trade markets.
Holding the star-studded event in Toronto is a strategic move as India's cinematic royalty makes a bid for a piece of the North American box office. Held previously in Amsterdam, Sri Lanka, Macau, London, Malaysia, Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok and Johannesburg, IIFA is capitalizing on the already huge Bollywood following in Toronto, which has an estimated population of nearly 700,000 South Asians.
More than 200 filmmakers and stars are expected in Canada from India and overseas, including three generations of the famed Kapoor clan headed by patriarch Raj Kapoor, the Deol dynasty including Dharmendra and his sons Sunny and Bobby, superstar Shah Rukh Khan, and bombshell actress Priyanka Chopra.
The Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox _ the flagship theater of the Toronto film fest _ will host a salute to the Kapoor dynasty on Sunday when the clan is expected to walk a red carpet and discuss their storied career.
Singer Sonu Nigam will take the stage Friday for an IIFA concert with Grammy-nominated singer Jermaine Jackson to pay a tribute to his brother Michael Jackson, who had a huge fan following in India. The concert will commemorate the second anniversary of Jackson's death.
"When we first (arrived in) California, we were most entertained every Saturday by Bollywood movies," said Jackson. "We were watching you from day one, as we were on the journey to becoming The Jackson Five. We loved the dance, the costumes, the entertainment, the set designs. It's what inspired us a great deal as well."
But it's the awards bash that will be the hot ticket of the weekend.
The multimillion-dollar show is being billed as the biggest production in the film academy's history. IIFA organizers estimate the elaborate staging involves between 800 and 1,000 performers, crew, designers, production managers, and talent, and the broadcast of it will be watched by 700 million viewers around the world.
Toronto has been gearing up for the IIFA awards for weeks with various Bollywood-related events, and stars have been flying into the city since last week.
Several films will be making their international premieres over the weekend, including "Double Dhamaal," starring starring Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, Ashish Chowdhry, Javed Jaffery, Sanjay Dutt, Mallika Sherawat and Kangana Ranaut.
When tickets for the awards ceremony went on sale in January, all 16,000 of the 22,000 tickets available to the public sold out in minutes_eight minutes to be exact.
And it's a mutually beneficial event for Toronto. Ontario premiere Dalton McGuinty lured the IIFA to the city by pledging $12.25 million (12 million Canadian dollars) and this weekend's festival _ held at a cost of $28.6 million (28 million Canadian dollars) shared by IIFA, sponsors and the province _ is expected to draw 40,000 to 50,000 tourists to various events throughout Toronto.
Bollywood spends a reported $127 million producing movies abroad every year, and Toronto is hoping to get a piece of that. Trade between Ontario and India amounted to $1.53 billion in 2009.
"We celebrate the year of Indian and Canada coming together," said Indian Consul General Preeti Saran. "We see immense growth opportunities between the two countries."