To say that the energy was palpable in the Fairmont Royal York hotel on Thursday morning would be an extreme understatement. Having lived in the Greater Toronto Area almost all of my life, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like this. Yes, the Toronto International Film Festival brings out fans in droves, but none as determined, loyal, dedicated and passionate as the fans of IIFA. It was a sight to behold: media people from India, Canada, UK, all over the world milling about, fans forming large crowds in every corner they could just to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and of course the celebrities themselves, soaking in the love and adoration. Toronto has been taken over by IIFA fever; every single one of my taxi drivers asked me if I was involved with the film festival and were quite knowledgeable about it, not to mention the volunteers donning IIFA t-shirts spotted all around downtown Toronto. Even if you didn’t know what was happening, even the casual observer knew that this was something BIG!
The day started off with a wonderful press conference for all of the media personnel. With glimpses at past IIFA weekends as well as a flashback to the events leading up to IIFA coming to Toronto the crowd was ready to get the show started. The dance performers of the Bollywood flash mob in downtown Toronto entertained with ‘Mauja Hi Mauja’, pumping the energy up.
Premiere of Ontario Dalon McGuinty gave a speech about his experiences with Bollywood, India and the South Asian diaspora of Canada. And to my surprise, Dalton McGuinty was a huge fan favourite, especially with the Indian media. Sandra Pupatello the High Commissioner of India also spoke highly of IIFA, Canada and the hard work put into making sure the event came to Toronto.
Air India, a sponsor of the event, unveiled a statue of their mascot the Maharaja holding an IIFA award in its hand. At this point, quite a few different actors and actresses had starting to make their way into the conference room and the media was eager to get them on stage. It wasn’t long before one of the hosts of Saturday night’s awards show Boman Irani took to the podium.
One by one, Ritesh Deshmukh, Bipasha Basu, Dia Mirza, Mallika Sherawat, Anil Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Anupam Kher and Sonu Nigam made their ways onto the stage. Most of them took the podium as well – at Boman’s insistence – to express their gratitude to the organizer and fans alike and describe how thrilled they were to be in Canada.
The great surprise at the end of the conference was the late Michael Jackson’s brother Jermaine Jackson’s arrival on stage. The internationally-renowned superstar recalled how he and his family used to watch Hindi films many many years before when they were young children and that his love for the industry remains. His camaraderie with fellow singer Sonu Nigam had to be seen to be believed; I am certain their performance at IIFA Rocks together will be a blast!
The stars were kind enough to pose for pictures and then made their way out of the conference hall.
For fans of the British radio Bollywood gurus Raj and Pablo, you will be delighted to know that they are at IIFA and having a blast meeting, greeting and hanging out with the stars including Anil Kapoor, Boney Kapoor, Ritesh Deshmukh, Ashish Chaudary, Mallika Sherawat, Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi and Bobby Deol to name just a few! We are sure we will hear more about the Bollywonderful boys over the next few days.
The rest of the day showcased wonderful films. There was the Double Dhamaal Green Carpet World Premiere in Brampton where stars such as Arshad Warsi, Ritesh Deshmukh and Mallika Sherawat made their presence known. Dia Mirza and Zayed Khan promoted their upcoming film Love Breakup Zindagi as well, to a very receptive audience.
Not only is IIFA good for bringing the stars closer to their international fans, but it’s also a great place to find the latest scoop! Sources say that Boney Kapoor has now taken over the Sahara Motion Pictures company. To add to the buzz, both Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan will be returning for the sequel to the blockbuster No Entry. Exciting developments indeed!
The excitement continued late into the night with arrivals at the Fairmont Royal York hotel. Yesteryear legends like Sharmila Tagore, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were as stunning as any of the youngsters and just as charismatic. The crowds went wild! But nothing compares to the uproar that was caused by the arrival of the Renaissance Man himself, Karan Johar. Looking extremely dapper for a man who had just taken a 14 hour flight, Karan was his usual magnanimous self, giving Bipasha Basu a huge hug the moment he saw her as well as the Kapoors. To say that the fans were excited would in fact be a lie; they were beyond ecstatic and the decibel levels were through the roof! Karan waved cheerfully after he had spent a few moments.
Throughout the night there were other celebrity spottings as they went in and out of the hotel to explore all that Toronto has to offer. From Rajkumar Hirani to Anushka Sharma to Mallika Arora Khan to R. Madhavan, it’s safe to say that Bollywood has descended upon the city. I can only imagine what the buzz will be like when Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra finally arrive!