Commentary: The 2011 IIFA Awards: Bollywood’s True International Debut?

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Since the early 2000’s, Bollywood films have changed! Change came in a way that was perhaps unimaginable to the regular Bollywood film viewer. This change was the slow but not total departure from the “boy meets girl and falls in love scenario”. This new type of film is one that has still not fully reached its potential or been recognized by those that are unfamiliar with Bollywood films, probably for that very reason. Bollywood began to explore new concepts, new characterizations and new story lines and thus slowly began to make its way into the international arena and expand its horizons.

On June 23-25, The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) makes its way to Toronto, Ontario, marking its first North American premiere since its inception in 2000. Yet, its arrival marks milestones and raises many questions. This is a huge step for Bollywood taking a stage that will be noticed by one and all, and there is great appreciation for Bollywood’s reach to its fan across the globe – BUT, what does IIFA mean in the larger spectrum? Will IIFA mean something significant for the future of Bollywood films, or will it simply allow Bollywood to explore more avenues when it comes to film production and promotion. Let’s take a look at a few more larger, more realistic examples within recent times. Not sure if the answer will be here at all, but taking a look at what’s at work is far more valuable than just enjoying IIFA in a very superficial and topical manner.

For a while, Bollywood films were never taken seriously as they were regarded as frivolous musicals that had men and women running around trees and yearning for love through stereotypical and predictable plot lines. As much as this perception comes from the lack of understanding regarding Indian cinema and Bollywood as a genre that exists within Indian cinema – the arrival of IIFA in Toronto, Ontario marks a very global stage for Bollywood films itself. Bollywood has garnered international attention over the years as it expands its production values and scripts – there have also been many superstars who have created names for themselves in the international area as well.

In 2001, Lagaan was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscar Awards, then came Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s arrival as a L’Oreal Cosmetics representative and short lived venture with Hollywood projects as well as Akshay Kumar’s venture into Canadian/Hollywood films with the upcoming Breakaway. Yet, despite these star-studded arrivals Bollywood existed on the international map for years. The point is, no matter how wonderful it is to see representatives from the Bollywood fraternity making solid names for themselves and creating a presence in international arenas, the Bollywood film is representative in and of itself, it doesn’t require big names or big budgets. If the films of 2010 and 2011 are any indication so far, a good film is a good film and Bollywood is a household genre across the globe.

Bollywood films are viewed by 5 billion people around the world yearly and has found its way into various pop cultural mediums; brief mentions on popular American TV shows, selected films at some of the world’;s most respected film festivals and even Lady Gaga has teamed up with Bollywood music producers to add a Bollywood spice to her latest tunes. Bollywood is going places… but, let’s be clear, the IIFA Awards are by no means the reason why Bollywood films are international as the international non-Indian audience may think and believe. If anything, the IIFA Awards help strengthen the bond that Bollywood films share with their loyal fans and helps negotiate deals pertaining to film shooting locations, tourism – agreements and relationships that help Bollywood reach a wider and more diverse audience. Factor in economics, money and potential money growing business partnerships and suddenly Bollywood is on the map like it hasn’t been in years.

IIFA’s North American debut in Toronto at the end of this month signifies a stronger relationship between Indian cinema and the western world. The United Kingdom, United States and Canada are responsible for more than 25% of the box-office collections of Bollywood films so it only makes sense to bring IIFA to the western hemisphere.

As much as Bollywood cinema is international in nature, that will never change, the IIFA Awards and its run in Toronto could prove to provide Bollywood with the connections and opportunities it needs to make a stronger presence on the West and perhaps take Bollywood films to newer heights. Only time will tell!

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