NEW YORK - Bollywood is promising a song-and-dance extravaganza as Indian cinema throws its awards ceremony in the United States for the first time, looking to tap into a mature but lucrative market.
The International Indian Film Academy said "House of Cards" and "American Beauty" star Kevin Spacey would appear in an acting workshop during the April 23-26 programme in Tampa, Florida, part of an effort to woo an American audience.
Hoping to show Bollywood's global appeal, the prolific industry's answer to the Oscars has never been held in India since its inception in 2000. Instead, the awards have travelled to Britain, Canada and Australia but never the United States, the home turf of globally dominant Hollywood.
"It was high time, really. I don't know what has taken us so long," said leading Indian actress Vidya Balan, who will also appear at the awards.
In what may be a hopeful omen for Bollywood's chances stateside, Vidya said she unwittingly held up the airport's passport control line as the US officer explained to the actress her fondness for India's "uplifting" films.
Vidya, who is known for portraying strong women and served last year on the Cannes Film Festival's jury, said US audiences were beginning to ditch stock images of Indian cinema as just formulaic song-and-dance routines.
"I think some had the idea that Hindi film was esoteric or all a one-off spectacle," she told AFP. "I think they are now ripe to see that Hindi cinema has far more to offer."
Promoting Indian culture
Nonetheless, the awards plan a heavy dose of glitz with music, dancing and leading names for the main April 26 gala organizers predict will pack the 66,000-capacity home stadium of American football's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The event will feature performances by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, the Pakistani singer of qawwali spiritual music whose work has appeared in both Bollywood and Hollywood films. He is the nephew of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who gained an international audience through his collaborations with Western musicians including Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.
Organizers said that Tampa had courted the Bollywood awards and that the industry chose the city off the Gulf of Mexico for its record at holding major events including American football's Super Bowl and the 2012 convention of the Republican Party.
Kiran Patel, an Indian American health care mogul in Tampa who helped bring the awards to the city, said that Bollywood played a "tremendous role" in the world by appealing to moviegoers regardless of religion, race or other dividing factors.
"It is not only entertainment that it is doing, but it is introducing our culture, our heritage to mainstream America," he told a news conference in New York.
"This is a way of showcasing our culture in a very different way and at a level that has never been witnessed in this country." The awards will kick off with a free party for the Tampa public complete with Indian food, music and dancing.
An economic boost
Bollywood already has natural inroads in the United States, where nearly three million people are of Indian descent. The industry is also not short of viewers, estimating its films sell 5.3 billion tickets each year around the world.
But organizers said that the awards would bring additional economic benefits, with some 130 Indian chief executives jetting to Tampa to look at business cooperation on the sidelines.
"We have seen at the back of an IIFA, Indian companies going out there and investing in that economy," said Sabbas Joseph, director of the International Indian Film Academy.
Past award ceremonies have also brought surges in tourist numbers, which have risen by up to 195 per cent during the event, he said.
"You have the East and West coming together, you have businesses coming together and you have tourism coming together."