Why Bollywood's IIFA Awards are Headed to Toronto

Bollywood has seen what the Toronto International Film Festival has done for Hollywood as an Oscar launch pad, and wants Canada's biggest city to similarly showcase the IIFA Awards, it's annual celebration of Indian cinema.

TORONTO -- Canadian TV presenter Mohit Rajhans points to the moment Bollywood fell for Toronto, enough to give Canada’s biggest city the IIFA Awards, the Indian film industry’s Oscars, to host in June.

It was the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, and Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar was working the red carpet outside Roy Thomson Hall just before a gala screening for his action-comedy Singh Is Kinng as part of Toronto’s Mumbai Matinee sidebar.

The night before, fans and paparazzi got trampled outside Roy Thomson Hall by Brad Pitt worshippers attending a festival gala for Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's Burn After Reading

But Rajhans remembers an even stronger red carpet frenzy by Akshay Kumar fans the following day as they surged beyond the barricades, cel phone cameras in hand, for a brush with Indian film royalty.

“It was a mob mentality, and I was just a little scared,” he recounted. 

But executives from the International Indian Film Academy on hand in Toronto were more sanguine about the red carpet melee. 

Roy Thomson Hall, already an Oscar launch-pad for Hollywood studio pics each September at the Toronto International Film Festival, had suddenly become fan central for hard core Bollywood fans.

“They wouldn’t come to Toronto if they didn’t expect fans to blow the lid off of the Rogers Centre,” the venue of the 12th IIFA Awards, insists Veronica Chail, the Toronto-based host of OMNI Television's national entertainment magazine show Bollywood Boulevard.

The IIFAs are produced annually by Wizcraft International Entertainment outside India and in rising markets for Bollywood product.

And OMNI Television, as the official Canadian broadcast partner of the 2011 IIFA Awards, plans wall-to-wall coverage of the Indian film awards to reach and grow its Canadian south-Asian audience.

“When it comes to Bollywood, you’re not selling anything. You’re not trying to convince anyone. The audience has a core interest,” Alain Strati, vp of the OMNI Station Group, explained.

To celebrate Bollywood ahead of the green carpet style watch at the IIFA Awards in Toronto, OMNI is launching a Best of the IIFAs series, co-hosted by Veronica Chail and Mohit Rajhans.

Chail explains the four-part series showcasing Bollywood’s leading men and women and greatest IIFA Award dance numbers will also showcase how Toronto embraces diversity and Bollywood.

“The world lives here,” she said of Toronto’s varied multicultural communities, which each September soak up TIFF’s international film lineup.

What’s more, the Indian film industry sees Toronto as a gateway into the North American market, on the strength of buzz generated by local Bollywood fans.

“This is for the fans. They’re loyal and excited. And it will be three days of parties that will show how global Bollywood is,” Chail insists.

OMNI plans IIFA-themed Bollywood movie screenings on its TV stations, weekly IIFA Awards coverage on Bollywood Boulevard, and a new entertainment series Bollywood Top 10 Best to showcase the best in Indian cinema.

That coverage will come on top of daily south Asian news reporting on OMNI stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

There’s also online coverage of the IIFAs, including an OMNI Television website dedicated to fans of Indian cinema.

And OMNI will use varied social media to keep its audience up-to-date on IIFA news leading up to the green carpet pre-show and Rogers Centre awards show.

The 12th IIFA Awards are set to take place in Toronto from June 23 to 25.