Indian film awards returns to Macau for three-day extravaganza
Film, fashion and fun return to Macau for the annual IIFA Awards. Kylie Knott finds out why the Indian extravaganza is more than just a big party
"Magical and insane! That's how I'd sum it up," Sabbas Joseph says down the phone from Mumbai where the company he co-founded, Wizcraft International Entertainment, is based. "But this year's will be crazier than ever."
The magical insanity Joseph is referring to is the 14th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which returns to The Venetian in Macau on July 4-6.
The annual event is a glamorous affair attended by a "who's who" of Indian cinema and viewed by more than 600 million people, making it one of the world's most-watched entertainment events. And Wizcraft has been behind it every glitzy step of the way, ever since it staged the inaugural IIFA Awards in London in 2000, when Bollywood hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam ( Straight from the Heart) scooped best picture, best director (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) and best actress in a leading role (Aishwarya Rai).
That star-soaked show (Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Kylie Minogue, Miranda Richardson and Talvin Singh were guests) rocked the Millennium Dome, its success and star turnout another sign of the growing global appeal of Indian cinema.
For years studios worldwide have tuned into the Indian film industry... and for good reason. There's money to be made in those Bollywood hills - and lots of it. A 2012 report by Ernst & Young estimates that the Indian movie industry is worth more than US$2 billion a year.
Since the 2000 event, IIFA has taken the show to 10 countries in four continents including South Africa (2003), Singapore (2004, 2012), Sri Lanka (2010), Thailand (2008), Canada (2011) and Malaysia (2002). "While the location changes some things stay the same: there will always be dancing, fantastic fashion and loads of fun," says Joseph.
And next month's three-day extravaganza will be no exception. "The last time in Macau [for IIFA's 10th anniversary in 2009] it was one big party - one of the most brilliant and exciting of all. But I have a feeling this year's will be better as we have even more reason to celebrate," he says.
One hundred more reasons, in fact, as India celebrates a century since its first full-length feature, Raja Harishchandra, was shown in Mumbai on May 3, 1913. Directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, the black and white silent film marked the start of the nation's love affair with cinema (in 2012 alone, India churned out about 1,500 movies).
And it's a love affair that has spread around the globe - Hong Kong included. Indian films were big hits in the city in 2012 with English Vinglish - one of the films in the running for best picture and best actress (Sridevi Kapoor) in the IIFA Awards - the second-most successful Indian release in the city (the 2010 comedy 3 Idiots holds the top spot).
For Chetan Bhagat, whose 2004 novel Five Point Someone was adapted into the film 3 Idiots, the widening exposure of Indian cinema in Hong Kong is good news for a city he has close ties with. "Indians are fascinated by their films, and I was no exception when I was living in Hong Kong. I landed a few weeks before the handover [in 1997] and lived there for 11 years so yes, I'm extremely attached to the city: it was where I had my first job, got married and had kids …" Hong Kong is where he also wrote his first book, Five Point Someone. "I wrote the book at my home in Kennedy Town and some parts in the Goldman Sachs office in the Cheung Kong Center. That book became 3 Idiots, [one of] Indian cinema's biggest hits and hugely popular in Hong Kong. Strange how life comes full circle. If there was no Hong Kong, there would perhaps be no 3 Idiots!"
Bhagat won't be attending this year's IIFA Awards, but his global forecast for Indian cinema is sunny. "I think the future's bright. We are slowly making films that are getting noticed around the world … The sensibility was very escapist and kitsch earlier, but there is more realism now, which works well with Western audiences."
Joseph says that lovers of Indian film living in Hong Kong and starved of glimpses of their stars in the flesh will be more than satisfied at the IIFA Awards.
It is the perfect opportunity to see their heroes, he says, reeling off a long list of A-listers who'll be there. "A who's who of Indian cinema: Abhishek Bachchan, Dia Mirza, Jacqueline Fernandez, Prabhu Deva, Sridevi Kapoor, Boney Kapoor, Esha Gupta, Vidyut Jamwal …"
Also making their way down the green carpet (the colour switched from red at the 2007 ceremony in England, to draw attention to climate change) is Deepika Padukone, star of the blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani.
While media briefings of upcoming releases, music workshops and fashion shows will steal some of the limelight in Macau, it's the awards ceremony on July 6 that all eyes will focus on.
Leading this year's pack with 15 nominations is Anurag Basu's Barfi!, a romantic comedy-drama. Shoojit Sircar's comedy Vicky Donor is also expected to do well (it has nine nominations). Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and the action-packed Agneepath, as well as films such as Cocktail, Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, have also secured nominations.
Mumbai-based film critic Taran Adarsh (director B.K. Adarsh's son) says he's only missed one IIFA ceremony, and has fond memories of the 2009 Macau event. "It's such a rarity to see a country's entire film industry come together in a foreign destination."
His money's on Barfi! for best picture and best actor (Ranbir Kapoor). " Barfi! has won critical acclaim and commercial success and is a beautiful story." However, his vote for best actress is split. "I am tied - Priyanka Chopra for Barfi! and Vidya Balan for Kahaani. Both actresses really deserve the award."
Adarsh says recent features have raised the profile of Indian films in Hong Kong. "The film industry in Hong Kong has been taking baby steps but the success of 3 Idiots and English Vinglish have boosted the popularity of Indian cinema there."