The superstar of Indian cinema Amitabh Bachchan led a contingent which on Friday announced that the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) will hold its annual awards ceremony at The Venetian in Macau in June.
The IIFA awards, which were conceptualised in 2000 as a way of taking Indian cinema outside the country, are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year. And with estimates that last year's awards in Bangkok generated about $20 million of tourism-related business for the host city, it is no wonder that Stephen Weaver, president for Asia of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, was himself seated on the stage next to Bachchan at a press event on Friday, thanking IIFA and the movie star for their decision to hold the event at The Venetian.
"This is exactly the kind of event the Venetian was designed to host," commented Weaver, while highlighting that the resort has a capacity of 3,000 suites, one million square feet of convention space and an arena that can seat 15,000. Past IIFA events have been held in England, South Africa, Malaysia, Amsterdam and Dubai and have been sold out as non-resident Indians (NRIs), and even local audiences, welcome the chance to see their favourite Indian film stars.
Also present at the press event were the principal sponsors of IIFA, Macau and Indian government representatives as well as the chief executive officer for Star Group in Asia, Paul Aiello. Star's Indian television network and Bachchan both gained immensely in popularity in the early part of this decade when Star's Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", with Bachchan as the quizmaster, became a runaway success. Aiello referred in his speech to the partnership between Star and Bachchan as well as the five years Star has been involved as a sponsor in IIFA.
The organisers saved the best for last. Bachchan, who is the brand ambassador for IIFA, began by thanking Weaver for putting him up in the largest room he has ever slept in, adding that he wishes the room was equipped with "a golf cart so I can use the cart for the distance to go to the bathroom".
He then moved on to talk about how Indian cinema has over the past 10 years undergone a radical change of image, from being considered "infra dig" to now being an integral part of Indian culture. "On my visits to other countries, people who don't look like us, who don't speak our language have watched our movies and can sing the songs from them," said Bachchan.
A recent KPMG report estimates that the Indian film industry had total revenues of $2.2 billion in 2008 and forecasts that it will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.1% to reach $3.4 billion by 2013. The report attributes this to factors such as the expansion of multiplex screens in India, enhanced penetration of home video and an increase in the number of television channels fuelling demand for film content.
The industry is spawning revenues far beyond its own shores. Almost half of Indian films are now shot abroad, in locations such as New Zealand and Switzerland, as infrastructure deficits, bureaucracy and red-tape deter Indian producers from using Indian locales. Also responsible for the growth of overseas revenues for Indian cinema is the large diaspora of NRIs. In countries like England and Singapore, Hindi movies are released at mainstream movie theatres, simultaneously with their Indian release.
India's film industry is estimated to be the largest in the world in terms of number of films produced and tickets sold.
Private bankers in Hong Kong are no doubt among those responsible for the fact that the most expensive category of tickets for the awards ceremony, which will be held on June 13, are already sold out, just days after bookings opened. Private bankers know well that Indians the world over will be appreciative of the opportunity to spend a night at the movies -- or in this case, with their movie stars.