Bollywood glitz comes to Canada

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The Independent Culture

Toronto will shimmer and shake this weekend when Bollywood makes a splash in Canada's largest city, with some of India's film superstars gathering for an eagerly awaited awards ceremony.

The 12th Indian International Film Awards gets underway Thursday as it makes its North American premier in Toronto, and is holding a gala opening on Friday of Salman Khan's debut production "Chillar Party," a comedy about children of different backgrounds.

Bollywood gangster movie "Once Upon a Time in Mumbai" leads the field in the nominations for the Hindi-language film industry's glitziest awards, with Saturday's ceremony marking the culmination of the festival.

The film has been nominated in 12 categories for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, including best film and best male lead for Ajay Devgan, one of Bollywood's leading actors.

Screen tough guy Salman Khan's corrupt cop romp "Dabangg" (Fearless) is close behind with 11 nominations.

Other movies in the running for a clutch of awards include the drama "Ishqiya" (Love) with nine nominations. Romantic comedy "Band Baaja Baaraat" (The Wedding Planners) and the thriller "Rajneeti" (Politics) both have eight.

Launched in 2000 at the Millennium Dome in London, the annual IIFA awards have been held in 11 cities around the world, including Colombo, Macau, Bangkok, Dubai, Amsterdam and Johannesburg.

Tickets sold like hot cakes for this year's ceremony, snapped up within minutes of going on sale, said organizer Wizcraft International Entertainment.

Organizers say 22,000 are expected to attend the ceremony at Toronto's Rogers Centre, while another 700 million could watch it live on television.

Toronto, which has earned the nickname "Hollywood North" for its own bustling film industry, is now home to more than 500,000 Indo-Canadians.

And as some of the stars began to arrive on Tuesday, throngs of fans turned out to greet them at the airport.

"Them coming here was a big thing because it happens once in a lifetime," fan Palika Sharma told public broadcaster CBC.

Stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Mallika Sherawat, Dia Mirza, Anil Kapoor, Shilpa Shetty, Neetu and Rishi Kapoor are all due to attend the festival.

The turnout will be a contrast to last year's event in Sri Lanka when many stars stayed away after protests by Indian Tamils.

The event is designed to celebrate the popular Hindi-language film industry and win new audiences abroad with cinema ticket sales slumping back home, falling 20 percent from $2.3 billion in 2008 to $1.85 billion in 2010, according to global consultancy KPMG.

Until recently, Indian filmmakers could be virtually assured of high box office returns, with cinema one of the few forms of entertainment and movie-goers traditionally loyal to big name stars.

But a combination of poor quality content, rising overheads, the global economic downturn and an increase in other ways for people to spend their spare time and hard-earned cash has hit studios in the pocket.

Bollywood icon Aamir Khan, who was in Toronto last year for the international premier of "Dhobi Ghat" (Mumbai Diaries), however, noted recognition abroad does not help with distribution in India.

Receiving an audience award at the Toronto film festival or the Palme d'Or at Cannes, for example, is a "sure, sure way of telling (Indian) audiences not to go to a film," he said.

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