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.
The 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.
Kher, also runs a Film school called Actor Prepares, and he dispatched two of his film school students to go out and buy a gift for Mr. De Niro. One that would suit his personality. You see, this was just prior to Kher’s departure to America to work with Mr. De Niro, and Director David O. Russell in the film Silver Linings Playbook.
I thought this film was delightful. These two girls (Shivangi Khshirsagar in blue above & Rimal Arora), are at some of life’s crossroads – struggling over their love lives as well as their careers. They were just super. One is a wiz at basketball but her acting and dancing career has yielded only rejections. The other is under pressure from home to get married.
So this day, they must buy this gift for Robert De Niro. Not only do they have little info to go on, but there’s a deadline as Anupam leaves for the airport and America at 4:00 PM that very afternoon.
Have a look at the trailer:
Did I mention that Ms Shivangi Khshirsagar was on hand and discussed what it was like to be directed by Mr. Kher (she joked that he yelled most of the time). She plays one of the girls; she ran rings around the boys at hoops aka basketball, and while in this short film, she dropped enough F-bombs, to cause a ripple in the audience. Watch for her take on De Niro’s famous monologue from Taxi Driver – (she’s auditioning):
You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Oh yeah? OK.
As I said above, this was just a wonderful piece of film making filled with unexpected events, tough talk, and a lot of humor, from the views of Mumbai and its Marine Drive, and other landmarks like The India Gate, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – to the hustle and bustle of life on the streets of Mumbai, to the salty girls in the featured roles. It was a pleasure and a fine way for me to kick off the Videocon d2H IIFA Weekend.
Photo: courtesy – Wizcraft International/ IIFA
But wait – there’s even more. Mr. Kher conducted a Q & A about the film, and then there was a small acting workshop. Mr. Kher coached two actors in a short scene. The man was David McRobert, a British ex-pat now living in Largo, FL I missed the actress’s name.
I even walked away with a Black with Red Piping Computer/Messenger Bag that bore the legend I Went Shopping for Robert De Niro on the front, and An Anupam Kher Film on the back. Inside the bag was a matching USB thumb drive, a pen, a notepad in the design of the film poster above, and a golf shirt with the same design. And I had a chance to thank Anupam in person on Saturday the 26th.