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Bollywood Awards Weekend Lights Up Tampa

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The 15th annual International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards is underway in Tampa. For the first time, the IIFA extravaganza, often dubbed the Bollywood Oscars, is taking place in the United States -- and is expected to draw 800 million viewers in 110 countries, $11 million to the Tampa area and 30,000 local visitors. Here are some of the stories (with updates coming throughout the weekend):

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Hollywood and Bollywood came together on the green carpet for the 2014 IIFA awards Saturday night in Tampa. Fans snapped photos of Kevin Spacey posing with Deepika Padukone before the awards show got underway. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Fans grabbed whatever vantage points they could to catch a glimpse of their favorite Bollywood and Hollywood stars before Saturday's IIFA awards show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor talks to reporters as he makes his way down the green carpet to the IIFA awards show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and wife Catherine Lynch Buckhorn talk to the media they makes their way down the green carpet to the IIFA awards show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Fans jostle to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars on the green carpet leading in to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra laughs with Hollywood star John Travolta on the green carpet Saturday night at the IIFA awards in Tampa. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

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Dancers from Odissi Dance Academy in Tampa. Photo by Eve Edelheit for Tampa Bay Times

All the Right Moves

About 30 students at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School of the Arts in Tampa got to show off a dance number to their muse -- a routine they'd learned months before knowing the international star would be visiting them.

Bollywood performer Madhuri Dixit got a preview of the students' talent during her Friday visit to the school on the eve of their big moment as part of Saturday's opening performance at Raymond James Stadium.

The students learned their choreography back in September as part of another event, turning to YouTube videos of Dixit for inspiration.

Their director, Shana Donahue Perkins, later invited the IIFA producers to the school to have the students audition once she learned the awards were coming to town.

"We did that dance not ever knowing she would be here," Donahue Perkins said of Dixit.

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Students from Tampa's Orange Grove Middle Magnet School of the Arts, who will be part of the opening performance at Saturday's awards, pose with their director Shana Donahue Perkins and Bollywood performer Madhuri Dixit during her visit to the school on Friday afternoon.

"Oh my goodness, you guys are phenomenal!" Dixit told them after they danced for her wearing billowy sky-blue pants and halter tops with embroidered gold medallions.

Marie Ulysse, one of several parents standing to the side, said all the months of practice and hard work by son Gabriel Mannheimer and his classmates were paying off.

"It's all worth it," Ulysse said.

Gabriel said he and his classmates have traveled throughout the country and performed in front of large audiences before. But never 800 million people.

"Sometimes you just go with the dance," he said after Dixit left the classroom following words of encouragement. "You don't want to psyche yourself out."

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Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, an experienced diver, talks about sharks with an Indian TV crew before the 500,000-gallon corral reef saltwater tank at the Florida Aquarium as a sand-tiger shark swims behind him.

Penguins, Mermaids and Causes

Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, with his first nomination for best actor in a negative role at the International Indian Film Academy, joined other visitors Friday afternoon on a visit to the Florida Aquarium, where he met Cliff the African back-footed penguin and spied sharks, stingrays and a mermaid.

Elena Lamar, associate curator in husbandry, brought Cliff over to meet Oberoi, who was dressed stylishly in a white sport jacket, pink shirt, faded blue jeans and brown loafers.

Seated before a huge tank as a barracuda, a sand-tiger shark and permit fish swam behind him, Oberoi met the penguin, who rested on Lamar's lap, and talked with Lamar about the aquarium's and his own efforts in conservation for endangered wildlife.

Then they moved onto the 500,000-gallon saltwater corral reef tank, where Oberoi put his hands on the glass, gazing into the blue-green waters at a sand-tiger shark and schools of fish. A huge sting ray swam by and then the scaly tail of a mermaid appeared at the top of the tank.

"Ohhh!" Oberoi said, as the mermaid, also wearing a belly-baring black swim top with silver sparkles, took sips of air from a hose.

"I think that's a beautiful sight, beautiful sight," Oberoi said.

Strolling to the exit, Oberoi said he was greatly enjoying his stay in Tampa, which his wife's relatives call home.

His son, just over a year old, is having a great time taking swim lessons, he said.

Oberoi is also spending time here on causes dear to him. He was planning to go in a few hours to Oxford Exchange in Tampa for a charity event for Children Across Borders, for which he is an ambassador.

He was thrilled, he said, to see the enthusiasm and awareness in the area for Indian culture and global issues in general.

"When I was in my teens and first visited, kids here barely knew about my country," he said. "It's so heartening to see the way America has grown," he said.

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Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor high-fives a fan during the opening of the IIFA Expo at the Tampa Convention Center on Thursday. The Expo features Indian clothing and food vendors, and fashion shows. Photo by Eve Edelheit for Tampa Bay Times

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From left, musician Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, actress Sonakshi Sinha, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, actor Stephen Baldwin, Visit Tampa Bay President Santiago Corrada and actor Anil Kapoor dance to the tune "Do Da Tampa" after an IIFA press conference at the Hilton in downtown Tampa Thursday. Photo by James Borchuck for Tampa Bay Times

Dancing With the Stars

At a press conference at the downtown Hilton, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn shared the stage with Bollywood film star Anil Kapoor, famous in the United States for his role as the gameshow host in Slumdog Millionaire, dancing to the event theme "Do Da Tampa."

In his speech, Buckhorn said the city was both honored to host the event and humbled by the opportunity.

He noted that of the 7,000 to 8,000 people who attended Wednesday night's Stomp event, 40 percent were not of Indian heritage.

"I can tell you they didn't understand all that was going to happen, but they do now, and they're in love," Buckhorn said.

"When you hear someone from Alabama walking down the street butchering the greeting 'Namaste,'" he said, "I know we've come a long way."

Gov. Rick Scott spoke briefly, congratulated Buckhorn on his dancing, said he found the energy of India unbelievable and encouraged everyone to have a wonderful time.

At the end, several stars, including Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone, got on stage to dance to "Do Da Tampa."

But out-moving them all was Visit Tampa Bay's Santiago Corrada, who twirled Kapoor in a salsa-like move.

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Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, famous in the United States for his role as the gameshow host in 'Slumdog Millionaire.'

Ahoy, There: Welcome to Bollywood

Shaun Brooker and Todd Burnett, from Tampa's Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, were part of the committee welcoming attendees to the Bollywood Oscars in Tampa. They were dressed as pirates as part of Tampa's tradition of annual parades of invading pirates and pirate ships.

"The Hilton called us yesterday so we got it all together," Burnett said.

Some out-of-town celebrities have been a little bewildered when greeted by the pair, reaching toward visitors with sets of beads to place around their necks.

"'What are these guys doing?'" Burnett said he could read on their faces.

"We try to give them about a minute of explanation," Brooker said.

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Famed Bollywood playback singer Shankar Mahadevan (left) and son Siddarth (right) joined Tampa musician Christopher Harman (with guitar) for a musical exchange at Tampa bar Irish 31. Photo by Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

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Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor takes the baseball from Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Cesar Ramos to throw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday night at Tropicana Field. Kapoor is one of many Bollywood stars in Tampa for the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards. Photo by Will Vragovic for Tampa Bay Times.

Model Behavior for the Starstruck

Some fans decided to forgo waiting to see stars at the airport and instead try to catch a glimpse of them at the Hilton in downtown Tampa.

Tina Bansal, 32, who traveled from her home in England to attend the awards, said she caught Bollywood star Anil Kapoor heading for coffee in Starbucks near the hotel.

"Can I take a picture with you?" she said she asked. He obliged and gave a great smile, said Bansal, who is of Indian heritage.

A model, she traveled here with a friend, a fashion designer, whose clothes she'll be wearing to events. For the awards she'll wear a long baby pink ball gown, she said.

Bansal -- thrilled to attend the events -- admitted to being intimidated arriving at the awards in her gown along with so many glamorous stars.

"You don't know if the cameramen are going to take a picture of you or are you a nobody?" she said.

When IIFA's events are all over, she plans to hit Universal Studios in Orlando, and do some shopping.

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People flocked to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park Wednesday for the IIFA Stomp, the official start of IIFA's Weekend and Awards events in Tampa. Photo by Eve Edelheit for Tampa Bay Times.

Presence and Understanding

More than 2,300 people of many races and ethnic groups came to in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa for the IIFA Stomp, the official start of events.

Hundreds pressed against the stage, bopping up and down to music played by deejays through huge speakers. Dozens of smart phone cameras hovered in the air when local Bollywood dance troupes took to the stage.

Lines snaked across the grass behind beer trucks and at peripheral sidewalk tents selling butter chicken, samosas and other Indian cuisine.

Families lounged on blankets and kids swirled in hoola hoops.

Partiers wore shorts and jeans and some women were in colorful saris and salwar kameez tunics and pants.

The display made Sahana Gowda of Tampa proud.

"From when I came (to the United States from India 20 years ago) there's been a tremendous amount of understanding of Indian culture," said Gowda, a palliative care physician with relatives from throughout the U.S. visiting her to attend the awards.

"The Indian-American community has a huge imprint now," she said as daughter Neha, 5, twirled a hoop. Daughter Maya, 13, was elsewhere in town, in an Indian Flash Mob dance troupe.

"They are a presence."

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Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra and actress Sonakshi Sinha took the stage to thunderous applause at IIFA Rocks, a celebrity-studded event that's part of IIFA's Weekend and Awards. Photo by Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

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Bollywood star Vanni Kapoor walks the green carpet at the IIFA Rocks event.

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Bollywood actress Kainaat Arora greets reporters and fans on the green carpet at the IIFA Rocks event.

Say cheese, for the IIFA Expo

A throng of journalists and fans pushed behind Bollywood film star Anil Kapoor after he cut the ribbon at the IIFA Expo at the Tampa Convention Center.

On a stage inside, he appeared with Dr. Kiran Patel, a Tampa doctor instrumental in getting the awards brought here, plus Andre Timmins of IIFA and Santiago Corrada of Visit Tampa Bay.

They lit a candle on stage and said a short prayer to the Hindu god Ganesh.

Patel said the Expo was part of the business connection tying India to Florida, Tampa and the United States.

"This is only the beginning," Patel said.

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Bollywood star Deepika Padukone arrives at Tampa International Airport for IIFA's Weekend and Awards. Photo by Skip O'Rourke for Tampa Bay Times

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Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, best known to American audiences for his role as the game show host in 'Slumdog Millionaire,' snaps selfies with fans after arriving at Tampa International Airport for IIFA's Weekend and Awards. Photo by Skip O'Rourke for Tampa Bay Time

Want to know more about Bollywood and Indian culture in Florida? Take a look at these features:

Shop for the Flavors of India at House of Spices
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/indian-grocery-orlando-amrhein.html

Indian Dance Classes Fuel Cultural Connection
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/Indian-dance-orlando-amrhein.html

Traditional Indian Attire Sparkles in Orlando Boutique
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/indian-clothing-orlando-amrhein.html

Ayurvedic Center Offers Ancient Alternative Treatments
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-sai-ayurvedic-amrhein-farrell.html

An Expert Guide to Indian Cuisine
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-guide-to-indian-cuisine-amrhein.html

A Primer: 12 Tips for Understandng and Enjoying Indian Food
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-food-primer-amrhein.html

Video: Cricket Takes Hold on the Fields of Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/videos/2014/Cricket-Takes-Hold-On-the-Fields-Er-Pitches-of-Tampa.html

Cricket - Florida's Growing International Sport
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-cricket-article-amrhein.html

Bollywood: On Screen and In Hearts in Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-movies-tampa-amrhein.html

Honoring the Soul with Yoga in Tampa
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-yoga-amrhein.html

Indian Temples in Tampa Offer Celebrations, Festivals and Understanding
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2013/freelance-articles-2013/bollywood-indian-temples-amrhein.html

Community Thrives at Tampa's Center of Indian Culture
http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/bollywood-india-cultural-center-tampa-amrhein.html