Bollywood in B.C.: Controversy looms as star-studded weekend kicks off
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, April 5, 2013 9:58AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 5, 2013 1:42PM EDT
Some of Bollywood's biggest celebrities have descended on Vancouver for what’s being called Hindi cinema's equivalent of the Academy Awards. But in the midst of the excitement over the Times of India Film Awards, there’s also plenty of controversy.
Right from the beginning, there have been questions about why Vancouver was hosting the three-day award festival.
Last January, during a splashy ceremony that featured dancers in brightly-coloured outfits, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that the city would host the event. But the opposition quickly pounced, questioning the government’s motives.
The opposition New Democrats accused the Liberals of inventing the awards show and sponsoring it just so they could hold it in April, ahead of the provincial election in May.
Critics accused the Liberals of using the awards show to buy the “ethnic vote,” while the province insisted the event would be good for the economy and put the world spotlight on Vancouver.
The province has since spent around $11 million promoting the three-day event, but now there are questions whether that money is well spent.
The highlight of the weekend is Saturday night's award show at B.C. Place. Times of India Film Award spokesperson Laura Balance says she’s expecting a big crowd.
"We anticipate we're going to be very, very close to that 40,000, to a sellout," she told CTV British Columbia on Thursday.
She noted that because of strong demand, organizers doubled the seats available at the arena.
"In fact, we have opened the upper bowl, which we originally didn't intend to do, because of demand."
But according to the Ticketmaster website, there are still plenty of unsold seats. The upper bowl is not even half full and there are still hundreds of floor seats and lower bowl tickets still unsold.
NDP MLA Carole James says she’s worried as well.
"We're hearing very similar concerns and we've had concerns from the beginning around this event,” she said Thursday.
James says she suspects all the money that the province spent on marketing is not going to pay off.
"The premier wanted an opportunity for a photo. She wanted for an opportunity to say she brought an event to British Columbia. Instead, taxpayers are on the hook for something that looks like it's not going to be a huge success,” she said.
B.C. Finance Minister Mike De Jong says the sales numbers he’s seen are impressive, and that local ticket sales are a small indication of interest or exposure for the city and province.
"Upwards of 200 million to 250 million people are going to watch and learn more about who we are and where we are,” he told reporters.
Then there are questions about why nearby Surrey, which is B.C.'s second-largest city and home to tens of thousands of South Asian residents, was left out of the event.
The Surrey Board of Trade says it’s the group that promoted the awards show to the provincial government, after the idea was conceptualized by the Canada-India Business Council.
While TOIFA organizers said they originally planned to hold an event in Surrey, they couldn’t find an appropriate venue. Of the estimated 483,000 people living in Surrey, 145,000 are South Asian, and yet the largest venue organizers could find would accommodate only 950.
There was also controversy about whether award organizers had made a request to not hire "brown-skinned?" drivers and security guards for the three-day event because they would be too "star-struck" by the Bollywood celebrities who were expected to attend.
After CTV British Columbia reported the requests were made at two separate meetings, event spokesperson Balance was forced to apologize.
She said the request was not meant to be racist, but that with a number of big-name celebrities expected to attend the show -- including former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan -- organizers simply wanted the event to be staffed with the “most professional” people.
"I believe it was an unfortunate word choice on behalf of one of the staffers that was here in Canada," she said.
Now, the question is whether all the controversies will put a damper on attendance. The answer may come on Saturday night when organizers count how many seats get filled at B.C. Place.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Penny Daflos