by Mitch Perry
Organized by Mumbai-based Wizcraft Entertainment, the awards show is held each year at a destination outside India, but this is the first time it will take place in the U.S. Along with prominent members of the Indian community in Tampa like Dr. Kiran Patel, Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham was a catalyst in bringing the event to Tampa, and he acted like a proud papa at Tuesday's news conference at Tampa Theatre.
"Namaste, y'all," the Plant City-based lawmaker began his remarks.
Star power was provided at the news conference by the inclusion of two big-name Indian entertainers, Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire, 24) and pop star Priyanka Chopra.
The event began nearly 40 minutes later than scheduled because the two stars’ flight came in late from Los Angeles, where most of the main players had appeared at a similar news conference on Monday. They'll finish up the publicity tour Wednesday in New York City.
Commissioner Higginbotham had a simple response for those who question why the ceremony will be held in Tampa. "Why not Tampa?" he asked. "What better way to bridge cultures, to build relationships around the world than through arts and entertainment?"
Tickets for the three-day event, which climaxes with the actual awards show at Raymond James Stadium, went on sale earlier today, and while at the podium Dr. Patel announced that 6,500 tickets had already been sold. They are not inexpensive — the cheaper seats will set you back $93.50, and high rollers only need to apply for the front-row seats (they cost $3,924.75).
There is no greater cheerleader for Tampa than Santiago Corrada, the president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the agency promoting tourism in Hillsborough County. He said when he learned from IIFA officials what the event could do for Tampa, "It was love at first sight."
Dr. Patel emphasized that in a world that is "shrinking so fast," art and culture is the only way to cross racial, geographic and language barriers. "I'm telling you, this is a phenomenon," he said of the event.
Several videos were presented during the news conference, one of them highlighting the 20-plus events that will be taking place that last weekend in April, including an "IIFA Stomp" dance music festival at Curtis Hixon Park and a concert at the USF Sun Dome.
Usually the awards show takes place in the summer, but once officials decided that the Tampa Bay Times Forum would not be a big enough venue to host the ceremony (it holds approximately 20,000 people), concerns about the weather compelled organizers to push the event to the spring date at Raymond James.
Other speakers included Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said that if you asked him during the 2012 Republican National Convention whether it would be more fun to hang out with "Mitt Romney or Chris Christie or Priyanka... I'm just sayin'," he finished with a devilish smile across his face.