April 6, 2013 12:36 pm
Updated: April 6, 2013 12:52 pm

Vancouver hosts controversial Times of India Film Awards

Dancers perform during an event in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday January 22, 2013, announcing that The Times of India Film Awards will be held in the city in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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VANCOUVER — Some of Bollywood’s biggest celebrities have descended on Vancouver for the Times of India Film Awards, but controversy surrounding the event may be taking a toll on attendance.

As many as 400-million viewers are expected to tune in to Bollywood’s equivalent to the Academy Awards Saturday night, but the kick-off event didn’t generate as much interest as anticipated.

Only 4,800 turned out to Friday night’s musical celebration at the Pacific Coliseum, however organizers are still calling it a successful event.

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“From the Times of India perspective it was a huge success,” said event spokesperson Laura Ballance. “We were very excited to be able to showcase the music and song of Bollywood as the lead-off event to a couple fantastic celebrations.”

The South Asians aren’t generating half the buzz a visit from Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber or Angelina Jolie would — though the Bollywood stars are arguably more famous, in light of India’s 1.3-billion population and the millions scattered around the globe who call themselves fans.

The province spent $11 million to host and promote the weekend events, according to a Ministry of Tourism news release, which called the cost money well spent.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark first announced Vancouver would host the inaugural event amid flashing lights and brightly coloured South Asian dancers last January.

“This event is just part of what’s going to inject millions into our economy as a result of our relationship with the Times of India Media Group. They reach over 90 million people every single day, most of them in India,” Clark told the gathered media.

“That kind of opportunity can garner tremendous opportunities for people in our province,” she added.

But the opposition New Democrats accused the Liberal government of trying to buy votes with the series of colourful photo opportunities, for what it said was essentially a “copycat” film award.

“They invented the whole new Bollywood awards show trademarked and sponsored solely by the B.C. government so (the Liberals) could hold the event in April,” said NDP culture critic Spenser Chandra Herbert in a news release.

“As a taxpayer,” Chandra Herbert said, “I am ashamed at the partisan manner in which this government has represented us on an international stage.”

More controversy followed when allegations surfaced that the provincial Liberal government had attempted to influence the timing of awards celebration, to occur before the May provincial election.

The Times of India group dismissed the claims, saying it was “dismayed” by what it called inaccurate statements over the event’s timing.

The group said B.C. government officials never suggested the awards must be scheduled in the lead up to the provincial election, and that the company itself insisted on a date between late March and early April.

Whether the controversy surrounding the event has affected ticket sales will be revealed at BC Place Saturday night.

With files from the Canadian Press 

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