Last night wasn't your typical mellow stroll at Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Young adults, moms, dads, kids and grandparents of Indian descent — and many others — shimmied and swayed at the IIFA Stomp, a free celebration of this weekend's International Indian Film Academy Awards in Tampa.
Colorful silk, dazzling lights and infectious positivity filled the riverfront during what IIFA Director Viraf Sarkari called "a great time and a flavor of Bollywood music and dance." Spokeswoman Noreen Khan said IIFA’s goal was to create a "mela" atmosphere. (Mela is a Sanskrit for "gathering" or "festival.")
The Stomp romp was as otherworldly as it was infectiously upbeat. It was as if, for a moment, we were somewhere else and everyone felt quite all right with that.
India's big movie awards, which in case you've been out of town or out of touch, are to the country what the Oscars are to the U.S. — it's IIFA's first-ever event in the U.S. and has been in the works over the past two years.
DJ Ravidrums, born Ravi Jakhotia — a Chamberlain High grad and now world-famous drummer/mixer — set the pulsating beat after dark while other big-deal spinmeisters Amann Nagpal and Clement took turns amping up the party. Ravi now lives in L.A. but beamed with pride and excitement to back in his Tampa from L.A., where he's cavorted with the cast of Entourage on the set of their new film and has collaborated with other famous performers.
"In the whole of America, only you are so lucky, Tampa," shouted Tampa's Dr. Kiran C. Patel, who stood onstage next to his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, the namesake of the Straz Center's conservatory. The philanthropist couple was instrumental in bringing IIFA to Tampa.
Kiran introduced Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, whom Americans would recognize as the game show host from Slumdog Millionaire.
Every presenter and guest on stage seemed to explode with enthusiasm. From Kapoor shouting, "I'M SO HAPP-AY!" to "Bollywood bad man" Gulshan Grover and Indian TV host Shahrukh Khan, among other celebrity appearances, the event offered a lesson in how singular and subjective fandom can be. Awestruck women mobbed the stage to see idols many had never seen before in their lives. (Click here for a primer to other celebs at IIFA this weekend.)
Westchase resident Sajma Nishad flocked with husband and daughter in a stroller to a paparazzi swarm that followed Kapoor offstage. She smiled big as she shared that she and her husband purchased tickets to Saturday's big awards ceremony and that she catches Bollywood films whenever screened at the AMC Veterans and Muvico in Ybor.
"I'm so excited," Nishad effused. "I'm a die-hard fan."
The excitement was shared by city honchos, too.
“It’s a huge opportunity to once again tell Tampa’s story to the entire world," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “Eight hundred million people will watch this event.”
The mayor took the mic before the nighttime party went full tilt, when a crazy "Transformer" lighted creature took over the stage. The beginning of the event offered dancers on and offstage in mesmerizing formations that reveals the deep history of Indian culture.
What's in store for the big 15th Annual IIFA weekend: