Hindi film festival, 'Oscars of India,' forgets Surrey, says business leader

The Canadian Press
March 7, 2013

SURREY, B.C. - It may be home to tens of thousands of South Asian residents and be B.C.'s second-largest city, but Surrey was apparently left out of a Hindi film festival dubbed the Oscars of India until this week, says a business-community leader.

Only after the issue became public Wednesday did organizers of the Times of India Film Awards begin working with the Surrey Board of Trade to bring an event to the city, said Anita Huberman, the business group's CEO.

Just as frustrating is the fact her organization promoted the idea to the provincial government after it was conceptualized by the Canada-India Business Council, said Huberman.

"I think the realization is that an event has to happen in Surrey, it needs to happen because 30 per cent of our population is South Asian," said Huberman by phone from the city of more than 483,000 residents.

"And so something is going to be happening, I'm still pushing for it, and I'm hoping that some type of announcement will happen soon, but time is against us."

A festival spokesperson did not return a telephone call or email from The Canadian Press seeking comment.

The festival was announced by Premier Christy Clark at the end of January and is expected to bring Bollywood stars to B.C. and draw hundreds of millions of viewers from around the world between April 4 and April 6.

A government media release stated festival-related events would take place around Metro Vancouver and would infuse $13 million to $18 million of direct spending into the economy.

To help produce the event, the provincial government said it would provide $9.5 million in matching funding to the Times of India Group.

The group is the largest media conglomerate in India and owns the world's largest English-language daily newspaper, drawing some eight million daily readers.

"I don't know why Surrey wasn't part of the original program to begin with, but as I said we're pushing for it still," said Huberman.

But Vivek Savkur, president of the Canada-India Business Council's regional office in B.C., is positive Surrey will be included in the festival, even though less than a month remains before it begins.

"I don't think that should be a problem but we take a final decision on what's to be done on Monday," said Savkur,

After all, he said he came up with the idea to bring the festival to B.C., and Surrey was always part of the plans, which now include events at BC Place, Vancouver's convention centre, and the Pacific National Exhibition.

Savkur said organizers haven't been able to proceed with a Surrey event yet because there have been "issues" with theatres and venues.

He said he has even met with the city's mayor a few months ago.

"The majority of the South Asian ethic population is here in Surrey," he said, noting it would be "inappropriate" not to have a film event in the city.

— by Keven Drews in Vancouver