Bollywood & Tampa = The IIFA Show at Raymond James Stadium

One thing that must be stated upfront – they sure know how to put on a show. The Tata Motors IIFA Awards at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium,

as part of the videocon d2h IIFA Weekend was simply unforgettable. Yes, it started 100 minutes late. Yes there were missed cues, technical snafus, and other mistakes – but damn, this was one thrilling show.

The Green Carpet Walk (which was supposed to start at 4:30 but didn’t) hit a high point when Deepika Padukone hit the greens just a bit before 8:00 PM. The crowd ate it up.

Following her was Kevin Spacey – yes the very same Kevin Spacey who also is recognized the world over as Francis Underwood of the Netflix Series House of Cards. Later, Spacey would don a lungi and dance with Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor.

There was Priyanka Chopra, and Parineeti Chopra, Vaani Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan on the carpet too. Let’s not forget Anil Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, and John Travolta either.

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Magic of Movies – IIFA in Tampa 2014

Sonakshi Sinha exerts her magic

Sonakshi Sinha exerts her magic

Kareena does her thing

Kareena does her thing

From downtown Tampa, it is only about 9 miles out to the Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheater. But I was going to an area more accurately described as suburban rather than downtown to attend the second of three major IIFA shows. This one was called The Magic of Movies. While it is true that not every film has magical moments in them = this show was filled with so many moments that I’ll never forget. From the great choreography, to the booming music, and most of all the action, the buzz, and the passion that filled this venue.

Magic of the Movies-32

Getting to the location of the Amphitheater was easy enough. Getting in was another matter. Security was very tight. Police checked for bombs hidden beneath my car, and every one entering the amphitheater was searched as well. I carried only my ID’s, ticket, and a notepad and pen. My camera had elected to stay back at the hotel.


Security and everything involved is fine – it just created some lengthy delays, and the show, as expected, began late. I say expected because every event that I attended started late. I was told about Indian Standard Time, by a Gujarati doctor that I sat next to at the Anupam Kher event of a few days ago.

He said, Take the start time, then add 45 minutes to an hour more (at minimum). That’s Indian Standard Time.


Kareena Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra

Kareena Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra

Deepika Padukone

Deepika Padukone

Madhuri Dixit

Madhuri Dixit

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IIFA Rocks!

Bollywood meets Tampa. The house was packed and from the throngs of people howling and screaming in near ecstasy at the sight of the favorite stars as they exited from their limousines, in the Tampa Convention Center’s looped driveway,  it seemed as big an event that I had ever been close to.  Friday night’s star-studded event was called IIFA Rocks! The concept was easy to understand. Take many of India’s best performers, most adored musicians, and brightest fashion designers and movie stars, then bring them all to one place, and put on a show. Well, they certainly did.

The guys doing his best to look in a politically correct striped tie and pin striped suit is Tampa's Mayor Bob Buckhorn.  The other guy is Anil Kapoor

The guys doing his best to look good in a politically correct striped tie and pin striped suit that he didn’t buy in Mumbai, is Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The other guy is Anil Kapoor

The idea was to bring the biggest and the brightest and the best of Indian culture right to America. The Tampa city planners, administrators, and government certainly agreed. An event of this scope had big business written all over it. Tampa last hosted a Superbowl in 2009, and a Major League Baseball World Series in 2008. So you know the city fathers would go for this., and the hotels, ditto.

IIFA Rocks! was the first of the three major events of the International Indian Film Awards Weekend. IIFA Rocks! for Thursday night, the 24th, a super show called Magic of Movies would be the big event on Friday the 25th, and the weekend’s monster show, the International Indian Film Awards, would be the climax. Yes, you can think of the Oscars – only this is the India version.

iifa rocks-3

Three huge events, over three nights; think of the Oscars on steroids.

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Girl Rising: Day Three at the IIFA in Tampa, Florida

Ruksana was a small child, living with her parents, on the streets of an unnamed Indian city, They were so poor that they hadn’t a proper home, instead they lived behind and below plastic sheeting, and corrugated cardboard, and pieces of wood or bits of tarpaulin. Life in this city was described by the narrator (speaking as an adult Ruksana):

This place teemed with life. With so many people each going their own way like thousands and thousands of different rivers.

As poor as they were, Ruksana’s parents sacrificed what little they had to keep her in school. They deemed that an education was the only chance for Ruksana to escape from the endless chains of poverty that go on for generations and generations in some parts of the world.

Then later, when urban planners, government ministers, city health inspectors, and private developers put their heads together, the shanties, and street dwellings came down. The people were displaced under the guise of urban renewal.

Now the narrator spoke again in the voice, or thoughts of a young Ruksana:

With thousands and thousand of rivers, we are now adrift.

It was a heart breaking moment. The narration for this particular segment was made by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra. What’s more, this segment also included another famous voice, that of Liam Neeson.

The film is called Girl Rising and it is the story of nine girls from Peru to Nepal, from Sierra Leone in Africa to India, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Haiti. Their stories are remarkable.

Here’s a description of the film from the website

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins, Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice.

The voice actors included Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett, Chloe Moretz, Kerry Washington, and Liam Neeson.

To say the film has impact is just being truthful as well as being an understatement. As we hear in the film in the voices of some of the girls portrayed: I am change. I am my own master now. I feel as if now I have power. I feel I can do anything.

Said another way: One girl with courage is a revolution.

And from the trailer: There comes a film – about changing the world – one girl at a time.

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IIFA 2014 Day 2 – Part 2 / Namaste Y’all

Day Two (April 24th, 2014) of the Videocon d2H IIFA continued with a monster Press Conference in a huge ballroom at The Tampa Downtown Hilton Hotel on Thursday afternoon. It didn’t begin at 3:00 – rather about 20 minutes later. Nonetheless – the room was packed with TV crews, print journalists, photographers, and other media folks of every stripe. I saw more smart phones, expensive cameras, TV video crews, and tablets than I could count. One gal (from London, UK no less, had a phone, a mini-cam, and a microphone hooked up to an audio recorder.

Al Higginbotham - Namaste y'all

Al Higginbotham – Namaste y’all

This was the perfect mix of celebrities, glamour, business, and politics. All in one place and at a single event. Florida Governor Rick Scott attended and spoke, as did Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and County Commissioner Al Higginbotham who said to the gathered throng, “From an old country boy from Plant City, I want to say, ‘Namaste, y’all,’ “

Master of Ceremonies: From Wizcraft - Sabbas Joseph

Master of Ceremonies: From Wizcraft – Sabbas Joseph

On hand, and acting as Master of Ceremonies was Sabbas Joseph, the founding director and creative force behind Wizcraft, the leading Indian Communication and Entertainment Agency.

From the business side we heard from Rajid Tata of Tata Motors, a co-sponsor of the Awards event. Dr. Kiran Patel spoke on health. And there was a speaker on Climate Changes.

Also, The General Counsel of India was on hand.

Anil Kapoor

Anil Kapoor

From the world of entertainment – Actors Stephen Baldwin, who said I am the youngest of the Baldwin Brothers and I’m getting old, but I’m committed to making a film in India soon. Right, Stephen, aren’t we all (getting old)? He and actor Anil Kapoor both spoke.

Sonakshi Sinha

Sonakshi Sinha

World famous actresses Sonakshi Sinha (Lootera and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara!)) and Priyanka Chopra (Barfi from 2012, and Ram Leela, Krrish 3, Zanjeer, Shootout at Wadala all in 2013) were on hand and captured everyone’s attention.

Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra

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I Went Shopping For Robert De Niro: The IIFA Opens in Tampa

I picked up my press credentials for the IIFA yesterday. If you don’t recognize the acronym, it stands for International Indian Film Awards, and with full sponsor heading it becomes Videocon d2H IIFA Weekend. But in reality, as in plainer English – It is the ‘Oscars’ of India, the 15th annual such event. Last year it was held in Macau, this year in nearby Tampa, Florida.

When I picked up my photo ID badge, I was told that I was the first person who had shown up and requested the press ID badge who actually appeared on a list of accredited journalists and whose badge was actually there on the table. This was at about 5:15 PM on Wednesday the 23rd. For that, I will thank Lizel Noronha and Michelle Rocha (of WizSpk) for their efforts. And all of that took place at the Tampa Downtown Hilton Hotel.

Day Two’s first event was a Business Forum at the Tampa Convention Center. Rather than sit in on that, I directed my feet to the glorious and ancient (it was built in 1926) Tampa Theater. The theater is notable for its exquisite design which includes indoors a city skyline and a starry sky overhead. If you must know, it is all stone, alabaster, paint, and lights, but when you sit under it, in the orchestra section, you really do think you’re under the night sky and stars.

2014_4$largeimg224_Apr_2014_133759957The event was called the IIFA Film Premiere & Workshop with Anupam Kher. Mr.Kher is one of India’s most noted actors. He was introduced as India’s Dean of Acting and India’s Bible of Acting. Mr. Kher was there to give his film a World Premiere. This new film is entitled – I Went Shopping For Robert De Niro.

Before we get to that, there were two short films shown. Directed by a brother and sister, Arosh Sarkian and Sabrina Sarkian, the two of them used their Film school skills to make interesting and moving films about life and death.

The first was entitled In Search of Dreams, and the second, Spice for Grandma.

In Search of Dreams was about an 8 Minute short film. An elderly woman interacts with her husband. He seems to come and go. There’s a reason for this – he’s dead, What we are seeing is from within the mind of the wife, who is dealing with advancing Alzheimer’s.

The second short was about the mother of an 7-year-old daughter. She cannot bring herself to tell this young girl that her grandmother has passed away. So she brings the daughter to her father’s home, and leaves it to him.

When the young girls asks, Where is Grandma, the old-timer points at the sun and says, You see that sun, Grandma has gone at least that far.

The point of the two films is that death and disease are universal, Both films were quite well received by the crowd. We were later told that nearly 800 people were in the auditorium which hold only 400 plus. I think that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Among the notables in the house were Shabana Azmi, who was once the reigning queen of the Indian Parallel Cinema back in the 70’s. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, a current star of what is called India’s Independent Cinema. I just saw this actor in The Lunch Box, which is playing in cinemas in the US these days. Also on hand was Ritesh Deshmukh, a talented character actor. Finally, Anil Kapoor, the superstar actor with 117 film credits to his name. He appeared in the Tom Cruise thriller Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.Or you might know him when he appeared for a few seasons on 24.

Okay, back to I went Shopping for Robert De Niro. Kher has long been a fan of De Niro who to Kher is the epitome of an actor with skilled craftsmanship, the ability to make any character come alive, and to thrill audiences everywhere.

Mr. Kher with De Niro - For Press

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The Berlin File

I watched this 2013 film, The Berlin File, about a shipment from Macau to Berlin. A film about arms deals, spying, assassination and defection. And it’s set in Berlin. The CIA, the Mossad, Arabs, Russians, North Koreans, and South Koreans are all a part of the story.

What or who is missing? Right, there’s no sign of Jason Bourne the man, but certainly present are the Bourne style fights.

The Berlin File comes to us from South Korean Director Seung-wan Ryoo. He’s gathered some of Korea’s top action actors along with female star Gianna Jun.

The film opens in the midst of an arms deal being discussed. We are in The Westin Hotel in Berlin. Someone is attempting to infiltrate the meeting. And from the looks of him and from what follows, he’s the hero. Or is he?

While ostensibly an action thriller, this is also a terrific spy film. It’s not so much about spycraft, coded messages, electronic surveillance, and dead drops, although we do have some of that. Instead we are asked to consider that loyalties change. The character we penned as the hero turns out to be working for the North Koreans. The character we deemed as the villain, apparently is working for the South Koreans.

And then there’s a third guy who could be working for either side. If you aren’t familiar with the actors, it does take a while before you can figure out who are the black hats and who are the white hats.

But wait, there’s more. One of the characters is apparently betrayed. Was it his wife, or was he sold out by his own country.

Okay all of the above means you do have to concentrate; you can’t doze off and expect to be awakened by the next gun fight. The action is quite fierce and exciting and I mean the the roof top chases, the shoot outs, and the hand-to-hand fighting.

Now I’ve seen a rather large number of films from Hong Kong that are about the triads, gang-warfare, financial crimes, and cops chasing down crooks. I’ve also watched a number of films from Japan that involved the Yakuza. But this one is my first Korean action film. I must admit that the action is superb, but there are more than a few negatives.

Guns are apparently the weapons of choice, but everyone’s marksmanship is horrible. But even with that, targets are hit, yet they struggle on – this film contains very little in the way of kill shots – at least for the principal actors.

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Transcendence opened today. Not quite with a thud but almost. Johnny Depp has little to do except think, dream, die – and  once that’s done, then the whole process begins again. Think of the fact of men, machines, and God; then roll them into one entity – as in sort of a new wave trinity, then upload this new being to the Internet, and you have a transcendental event or the theme of this film.

Now this film may sound as something provocative, or important, or even worthy of your time, money, and consideration. But really it isn’t. While not quite as numbingly bad as Depp’s turn as The Tourist in 2010, this is a film with little action, so-so dialogue, and a lot of philosophizing about the current natural order of things, and a new way to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Depp’s character Dr. Will Caster is not quite saying – We have met technology, and now we are technology. But that’s what the film is about. You see, as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Artificial Intelligence, Caster is set on building the ultimate Siri. Only he’s not talking about a mobile phone – instead he’s filled with terms like nannites, neural networks, AI, and more of the same.

Of course there are opponents. To wit, an anti-technology faction with Kate Mara as the Queen Bee called Bree. She’s not the least bit like a physical bee,  but don’t be fooled, she can surely sting as she’s the head of the opposition.

Now Caster has his allies as well. One of which is his wife Evelyn, played nicely by Rebecca Hall, another is Max Walter played by Paul Bettany, and a third is a think tank buddy/colleague/fellow scientist called Joseph Tagger and Morgan Freeman has the role.

So as the film begins we find the earth is mostly powerless, and since this is the case – we are back in the dark ages literally. We are told that Denver and another city have some power, but that is it Quickly we flash back five years and Dr. Caster is about to present his findings to an august body of some sort, or at least a packed auditorium, as opposed to a few guys at a corner pub.

He gives his speech and hallelujah, we all should embrace his benevolence and ways and means of not only protecting us from our own follies, but also, by doing so, we, along with AI, shall save the world. As he puts it, Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world.

He means that all of that intelligence would now be available to us, and would now be at our finger tips, or actually he means a keyboard.

But then, those bad folks, those anti-technology folks, gun him down in the lobby of the auditorium while he’s signing autographs – yes, geeks have groupies in this film. He doesn’t die of the gunshot. But that bullet was actually a very small projectile that might also be considered a dirty bomb. He’s given four or five weeks to live before he will die of radiation poisoning.

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Fargo – The New TV Series on FX

Lorne Malvo: Your problem is that you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t.

So says Billy Bob Thornton as the latest version of a killing machine, unlike The Terminator, this one is human and not only answers to the name of Lorne Malvo, but also answers questions in the same way we all do. He is a character you won’t admire, yet he’s one that you can’t help but love. I’m talking about the brand spanking new TV series called Fargo that premiered on the FX channel last night.

In case you are wondering, this series, which will run 10 episodes, is an adoption of the famed Coen Brothers film from 1996 called Fargo. In fact, the actual Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, are on board as Executive Producers of this series. They’ve adopted the same format as we’ve seen in True Detective – a one and done season with new characters or cases next year.

But while the TV series has definite reminders as well as something of the style of the film, this is more of a filtered reflection than any thing else. The characters are not the same – though the weather is. For example, the pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in the film) is now the not pregnant Molly Solverson (played by Allison Tolman). And the manic car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in the film, is now an insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (played by Martin Freeman).

The aforementioned Lorne Malvo is on hand to do some of the wet-work for the series.

Fargo may be the title but the show is set in Bemidji, MN – with Calgary and environs serving as the location of the production.

Like Fargo, the film, Fargo the TV Series. has its assortment of peculiar people, some as dumb as door knobs, and others not too far above that. We are also ‘treated’ to some unusual violence.

Why just in the first episode, a man was frozen to death while fleeing a captor, another was stabbed in the back of head while enjoying the services of a hooker,

yet another was bludgeoned to death with a hammer,

and lest I forget, a sheriff was shot down with a double-barrelled shotgun.

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