By Shadia Ismail
TORONTO (Reuters) - They may not be as familiar to North American movie fans as Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, but Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Kapoor, Bipashu Basu, Celina Jaitley and other Bollywood stars are getting a lot of second looks in Toronto in recent days.
The actors dominate the world's biggest film industry in India, and are just a handful of the more than 200 performers who have been on hand in this Canadian city since Thursday for the 12th annual International Indian Film Awards, or IIFAs.
The show, which airs on Saturday night, provides the climax for three days of movie going, dancing, fashion, music and a business forum aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries -- something event organizers hope to do around the world, too.
"Toronto is definitely the gateway to North America and we hope to maintain a great relationship with this amazing country for many years to come," Sabbas Joseph, Director of Wizcraft International, a Mumbai based entertainment group who produced the IIFAs, said at a press conference this week.
With an expected worldwide TV audience of 700 million viewers tuning in to watch the show, tickets were scooped up in less than 10 minutes. Some 22,200 faithful, Bollywood fans hope to get a closer look at many of their favorite stars.
Debuting in 2000 in London, the IIFA's have been held on four continents in cities including Dubai, Bangkok, Colombo, Singapore, Macau and Johannesburg...but never in India.
The idea, organizers said, is to present Bollywood not in its home country, but on a global stage.
"We are building bridges through cinema across communities throughout the world," said Joseph.
Singer Jermaine Jackson is on hand to perform with Indian pop star, Sonu Nigam, and he feels that being a part of the IIFA celebrations is a fitting tribute to his brother pop superstar Michael Jackson, who died on June 25 two years ago.
"We are an entertainment family and we have been entertained by Bollywood movies from the early '70s when we first arrived in California and started the Jackson 5," said Jackson. "That was the connection we had with Bollywood, years and years ago."
Awards in 15 categories are up for grabs at Saturday's green carpet event.
The larger-than-life gangster film "Once Upon a Time in Mumbai" leads the pack of movie contenders with an impressive 12 nominations, including best film and best leading male role for Ajay Devgan, solidifying him as one of Bollywood's premier actors.
"Dabangg" (or "Fearless") is a close second with 11 nominations. The corrupt cop thriller broke box office records in its debut week in theaters and is the highest grossing Bollywood film of all time, It earned a best male role nomination for on screen tough guy Salman Khan.
"My name is Khan" goes into the IIFAs with four nominations. The film looks into the struggles of a Muslim family in the U.S. following the September 11 attacks. The film earned Bollywood heavyweight, Shah Rukh Khan, a best actor nod in his role as a man with Asperger's Syndrome who travels across the country telling people he is not a terrorist.
Rounding out the category for best picture honors is "Ishqiya" (Love) nominated for nine IIFA awards while the romantic comedy "Band Baaja Baaraat" (The Wedding Planners) and the political thriller "Rajneeti" each have eight.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)