By Saundra Amrhein
TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Celebrities and dignitaries from India and the United States descended on Florida this week for the "Bollywood Oscars," an awards event making its first-ever U.S. stop with the aim of creating deeper ties between the two countries.
The International Indian Film Academy's awards show set for Saturday has been compared to the Super Bowl in terms of its security needs, traffic management and planning. But its expected worldwide viewership of 800 million far surpasses the championship American football game's 111.5 million viewers on average in 2014.
The film academy's choice of Tampa, home to Florida's third-largest South Asian community, to host its first U.S.-based awards show in the event's 15-year history came as a happy surprise to some fans.
"I jumped out of my seat," said Rubia Qureshi, 22, a local resident who grew up watching Bollywood films, known for their distinctive and elaborate song-and-dance performances. "I'm the biggest fan."
Qureshi and her mother, who is of Pakistani heritage, joined hundreds of others eager to snap photos of movie stars as they arrived at the Tampa airport and walked the industry's signature green carpet. Fans were so excited at the arrival of actress Deepika Padukone on Wednesday that they knocked over a security barrier.
Other celebrities taking part in the event include American actors John Travolta and Kevin Spacey as well as India's Anil Kapoor, best known to U.S. audiences for his 2008 role in "Slumdog Millionaire," and Shah Rukh Khan, an actor who has more than 7.4 million followers on Twitter.
The star sightings have created a buzz, but perhaps more exciting to local officials is the potential economic impact of hosting the awards as well as the prospect of building stronger business, cultural and tourism ties with India.
This week's event is expected to bring 30,000 visitors and $11 million in revenue, organizers said. It also will lay the groundwork for longer-term opportunities with business owners who attend, said Tampa cardiologist Kiran Patel, the event's biggest private backer.
"Ultimately this is not a four-day event," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "This is a multi-decade relationship."
The $2 billion Indian film industry has a wide global reach and produces more movies each year than Hollywood, though the U.S. film industry generates five times more revenue, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The film academy's decision to come to the United States, and particularly Tampa, is credited in part to the strength of the city's Indian-American community, which numbers more than 23,500 people.
The effects of the community's organization and growth can be seen throughout the Tampa Bay area where several large movie houses show Bollywood films. Indian restaurants and grocery stores are common, weekly cricket games are held at county parks and nearly a dozen Indian temples dot the area.
The film academy's kickoff event on Wednesday night drew as many as 8,000 people to a downtown park, 40 percent of whom were not of Indian heritage, the mayor said. There they got a taste of the rich culture as deejays spun Indian music and local Bollywood-style dance troupes performed.
Kapoor said connections have grown wherever he has traveled for the Indian awards show, and he predicted the same result for the countries with the world's two biggest film industries.
"It bridges the gap which has been between Hollywood and Bollywood," he said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and G Crosse)