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Bollywood award's glamour entices starry-eyed Canadians to embrace their roots

VANCOUVER - BC Place Stadium was awash with glitter, gold, and colourful saris as Vancouver rolled out its red carpet for some of the biggest names in Indian cinema.
Actors Chunkey Pandey (left) and Shryas Talpade pose on the red carpet at The Times of India Film Awards in Vancouver, Saturday April 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eric Dreger

VANCOUVER - BC Place Stadium was awash with glitter, gold, and colourful saris as Vancouver rolled out its red carpet for some of the biggest names in Indian cinema.

The who’s who of Bollywood gathered for the inaugural Times of India Film Awards gala, the culmination of a three-day celebration of South Asian film, dance and music.

The weekend, however, was meant to serve a greater purpose than simply recognizing film stars and technical crews for their achievements, according to one Bollywood director.

“Our films are really about the audience base,” Karan Johar told a news conference when it was first announced Vancouver would host the movie awards.

“The diaspora love that our films have received over the last 50 years has been ... something I can’t describe in words,” Johar said.

“When everybody calls them the diaspora audience ... I always say, ‘They’re much more Indian at heart than any of us are. They feel so much more attached to their roots.”

The multi-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded awards weekend was money well spent for Richmond resident Jasbir Johal, who attended the awards gala with her family.

Johal was born in India and came to Canada in 1988. She grew up watching Bollywood with her mother in India and although she never got a chance to see some of the industry’s biggest stars there, she said she was excited to share the glamour of Bollywood in Canada with her kids.

Johal said Saturday night’s event goes beyond film awards and celebrity gossip because Bollywood has helped her Canadian-born daughters maintain a strong interest in their heritage.

“I’m so blessed,” Johal said. “My children were born here ... (but) they still love to get involved in Indian culture. I think it’s all because of media and TV shows and shows like this.”

Johal thinks the event will drive the growth of the multicultural film industry in B.C. and foster a greater awareness of South Asian culture, she said in an interview from her home.

“We really thank whoever organized this show, so that our young generation who (are) born here, who grew up here can experience our Indian culture,” she said.

The mother of three prepared samosas and chai tea while her daughters put on makeup and dressed for the awards.

Her 18-year-old daughter Dayah, is a student at the University of British Columbia who speaks six languages and is involved with the Punjabi Language Education Association, to promote the language’s use among young people.

Dayah's older sister Pavvin is in fourth-year nursing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and neither has time to watch many movies, but said they try to catch Bollywood re-runs whenever they can.

They wore their best for the awards gala, after getting caught up in the fairy-tale glamour of the event. Dayah donned a white and pink high-collared frock, while Pavvin wore a blue ornate outfit that her relatives brought from India.

“It’s been really exciting to have it here in Vancouver, where we can go to all these Bollywood events that we otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to,” Pavvin said.

“The Musical Extravaganza I went to a few days ago was my first concert ever."

Once the Johal ladies finished beautifying, they joined hundreds of star-crazed fans who jostled for a better look at their idols outside BC Place.

Braving the rain to snap photos, many offered opinions on who would win which awards.

While the show started on the infamous “Indian time” — more than 45 minutes late — the 40,000 attendees responded with high-pitched screams, whistles and applause as about 40 Bhangra dancers from Surrey, B.C. opened the night with a high-energy routine.

There were audible boos, however, when Premier Christy Clark first took the stage — though the crowd did warm up some as she spoke of future opportunities for Bollywood films in the province.

“Let’s use this beautiful celebration of Indian film to continue to build bridges between us,” Clark said. “More trade opportunities, more tourism, and definitely more of your movies right here in beautiful British Columbia.”

“Bridging countries, bridging cultures, this is who we are,” she said.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong got some laughs from the crowd when he tried speaking Hindi and also for his attempt at performing a South Asian dance.

De Jong joked that he was auditioning for a role in Bollywood because he never knew when he “might be in need of a job.”

He flubbed only once, giving out a “TOFI” instead of a “TOIFA” to one of the award winners.

The awards show ran way overtime. Scheduled to end around 11 p.m., the show was only on act four of seven by that time.

Bass beats boomed with the final performance from BC Place, as the clock hit 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, and many fans streamed out of the building to catch the last SkyTrains home.

Over the course of the evening, awards were handed out in 14 main categories based on online votes from Hindi-film fans around the world. A number of critics’ choice selections were also awarded to those who didn’t win in the popular choice categories.

Host Ranbir Kapoor, who was introduced as “the heartthrob of millions, his awesomeness,” took the stage with co-host Anushka Sharma in a glittery act.

None, however, could eclipse the star power of Shah Rukh Khan, who had the audience bursting into frenzied applause every time his image flashed on the jumbotron.

He gave a sweat-soaked performance that had the audience on their feet as the clock struck midnight, but still ended up losing out in the Best Actor category to Kapoor.

Barfi, a film about a deaf and mute man caught in a love triangle, won Best Picture, while the film’s director, Anurag Basu, was also victorious in his category.

Priyanka Chopra won Best Actress for her work on the same film and stunned fans with a live performance that included several mid-song costume changes and a jaw-dropping entrance — she emerged from behind a giant orchid wearing a diamond-encrusted body suit that left little to the imagination.

Other starlets gave rousing performances of their own, including England-born Katrina Kaif, who belly danced her way through flames and hoards of male backup dancers and did not miss a step as one overzealous fan was escorted from the arena by security.

Fans jumped to their feet and ran towards security barricades as actor Abhishek Bachchan rode into the stadium on a slow-moving cart, dishing out smoldering glances and blowing well-received kisses at the crowd. Married to fellow Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, he hip thrusted his way into the hearts of his fans and left with the TOIFA for Best Actor in a Comic Role.

Rai Bachchan also performed live at the awards, her first live show since giving birth the couples’ child, according to the awards hosts.

Perhaps the most quirky award — reserved for villains — went to the host’s father, Rishi Kapoor. He won Best Actor in a Negative Role for the Indian action drama, Agneepath.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role went to Dolly Ahluwalia for her work in Vicky Donor, a somewhat-controversial film because it talks about sperm donation — which is still considered taboo in some South Asian communities.

Annu Kapoor, meanwhile, was awarded Best Supporting Actor and gave a dead-pan acceptance speech in Hindi that had the crowd in stitches.

Illeana D’Cruz took home the elephant-shaped TOIFA trophy for Best Debut Female, while Ayushmann Khurrana was awarded Best Debut Male, beating out Vancouver-crowd favourite Sidharth Malhotra.

The awards for Best Playbacks — artists whose songs are lip-synched during Bollywood films — went to Shalmali Kholgade for her hit “Pareshaan” and Sonu Nigam for “Abhi Mujhme.”

Saans claimed the top spot for the lyrics to “Golzar” and Ajay Atul won the award for Best Musical Director.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled the last name of Karan Johar