Indian actors, including Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, are bringing Bollywood glitz to the gritty north of England as they arrive in Yorkshire on Wednesday for a major film awards ceremony.
The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which run from 6 June to 10 June, are known as the Bollywood Oscars and will likely be watched on TV television by some 500 million people around the world.
The awards are held abroad to raise the profile of the Hindi film industry. Previous venues have included Amsterdam and Dubai. Other actors due to appear include Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty, a household name in Britain after this year’s reality TV race controversy.
But it is thought that Shah Rukh Khan, dubbed “King Khan”, will not attend, despite being scheduled to appear in London on Thursday for a charity auction.
The highlight will be the awards ceremony in Sheffield late on Saturday plus a cricket match featuring some of the stars. About 30,000 overseas visitors are expected to pour into Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, York and Hull for the events.
The choice of the county of Yorkshire, an area built on heavy industry such as mining, to host the event has raised some eyebrows, but there are several reasons why the IIFA Awards have come to the relatively unglamorous location.
Yorkshire has the third highest population of Asians and British Asians in Britain—according to the 2001 census, some 200,000 of the group’s overall population of 2.3 million lives in the area.
In addition, Britain’s tourist board has recently launched a drive to attract more visitors from India and wants to associate itself more closely with Bollywood movies.
“Some 23 million Indians go to see a film every day and you only have to look at the figures to see that more and more of them are being inspired to visit Britain,” said Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain.
Movies such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge feature scenes shot in Britain and Wright added this link “can only help us raise our profile among this growing audience”.
Britain is now the second biggest market for Bollywood films anywhere in the world—in 2005, the British and Irish box office take was £12.4 million (Rs97.96 crore then).
The event also allows the Bollywood film industry to reach out to a wider audience—despite the fevered interest in India, its international success has been modest.
Estimated global revenues for 2002 were 1% of Hollywood’s and only three Bollywood films have ever been shortlisted for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards—Lagaan (2001), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Mother India (1957).
In February, leading actor-director Naseeruddin Shah told BBC Radio that Bollywood films did not match the quality of those from other countries such as Iran, Korea or Mexico. “These countries are producing the most incredible movies and we are still plodding on with our boy-meets-girl, safe, old formula,” Shah said.
“That is the reason I think our films aren’t taken seriously,” he added.