As some of the biggest names in Indian cinema gather in Toronto this week, the Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) hopes its annual awards ceremony will help boost its presence in the North American market.
So far the IIFA’s nomadic three-day festival and awards event, created to raise the global profile of Bollywood, as India’s Hindi language cinema is popularly known, has traveled from cities in Europe, including London and Amsterdam, to the UAE, Africa, and south and east Asia.
Now, 12 years on, for the first time it is being held in the Americas.
Some 200 Indian actors and film makers, along with 40,000 fans, are converging to witness a lavish spectacle of song, dance, and fashion, not too far removed from the average Bollywood film.
Toronto, home to a prestigious international film festival of its own, is seen as a fitting launchpad for world cinema hoping to gain a foothold in the US market. Ultimately Bollywood producers have an eye on closer collaboration with Hollywood – a fact that is not lost on Canadian officials.
“Is it worth pointing out that Slumdog [Millionaire] premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival? Then went on to sweep the board at the Oscars and put Bollywood on the map,” says Michael Chen, Canada’s Tourism Minister.
Love this song “Kajra Re” meaning “Kohl-lined (eyes)” sung by Aishwarya Rai. The song is from the 2005 film Bunty Aur Babli, starring Abhishek Bachchan, Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan.
Prestige is not the only reason that Bollywood film makers would wish to make their mark here. North America is responsible for 25% of the industry’s overseas box office revenues.
In an economic climate where DVD sales are down, and piracy and illegal downloads are on the increase, this industry is looking to reach different audiences.
India is the world’s largest producer of films. In 2009, it produced a total of 1,288 feature films. By contrast Hollywood produces an average of 500 per year.
Hindi cinema is just a portion of India’s annual film production, making up about 235 films in 2009. However, it remains the single most popular and influential, in India and beyond.
So, who is watching these films, and why?
The south Asian diaspora audience is a significant factor. Bollywood films are popular in Europe and North America with large settled immigrant communities who relate to stories from south Asia.