At first, I was baffled as to why the International Indian Film Academy Awards were taking place in Toronto. Isn’t that like holding the Junos in LA? Sure, they have loads of transplanted Canadians but I can’t imagine a big turnout to fete Down With Webster. But Indian folks worship their stars with much more intensity, and it isn’t often that a spectacle the size of the IIFA Awards hits this city. The glitz! The glamour! The spicy accents! I had to be there.
Fortunately, I was able to weasel my way into a press pass by posing as a columnist for “Tandoori Fire” which, little did IIFA know, is a particularly well-priced Indian restaurant in the downtown core. My experience began on the awards’ trademark green carpet, which was adopted to raise awareness for environmental issues. However it seemed that the event’s Canadian organizers were unable to secure one, and had instead covered a red carpet with a slick coat of saag paneer. More than one foreign movie star slipped and fell on their artha. It was all in good fun, much like a Kids Choice Awards “sliming”, until Bipasha Basu snapped her ankle like a twig.
We were then ushered inside to await the beginning of the show. Some journalists reported that it began 90 minutes late, but they are being charitable to their hosts; the delay was over six and a half hours. As time dragged on, I noticed some Indian families drawing straws to determine who would be eaten. I dozed off and awoke to a swarthy fellow by the name of Raju rolling up my pantleg. I shooed him away but more patrons encircled me. Just as I tore the arm from my seat to defend myself, the lights went down and the show began to the delight of all.
I followed along surprisingly well, even though hosts Ritesh Deshmukh and Boman Irani spoke in both English and Hindi, and even sprinkled in the occasional Yiddish expletive. They had the audience in the palm of their hand from the moment they launched into their legendary “Jeetendra’s On First” routine. There were other pleasures that made the thirteen hour-plus ceremony fly by, such as a song-and-dance tribute to Canadian culture that regrettably chose to focus on the television show “Just For Laughs Gags” and Harvey’s Restaurant. I even got a little misty from the “In Memoriam” montage for this year’s actors who were trampled in Bollywood dance routines.
Later, the cast and crew of “Pyara Aura Aphima” (Love and Opium) accepted a Special Achievement Award for making the first film in IIFA’s history to clock in at less than three hours long. It received a standing ovation, and deservedly so. Finally, after more than 110 awards, the night/morning/day came to a close with an appearance from Indian idol Shah Rukh Khan, and, as is apparently an IIFA ritual, the crowd paid him a human sacrifice. I would not have wanted to be that stagehand!
As I filed out of the Rogers Centre, delirious and sticky with sweat, I knew I had truly experienced something special. I can’t wait to go again next year! I just hope that Moncton’s bid for the 2012 IIFA Awards is successful.