IIFA awards: Big B takes Leeds by storm
London : Train passengers and workers with origins in India and elsewhere in Asia could scarcely believe their eyes when they heard the announcement at the Leeds City train station: 'Ladies and gentlemen, the train now arriving at platform 8 is carrying a top movie star..."
The star was none other than Amitabh Bachchan, who was visiting Yorkshire to promote and catch up with arrangements for the International India Film Academy (IIFA) awards from June 7 to 11.
Soon, a small crowd gathered around Bachchan's train from London King's Cross. After the excitement settled down, he was quickly ushered through the station and out via a side entrance into a chauffeur-driven Bentley.
The IIFA is scheduled to be held in Yorkshire and local press promoting the event gushed that if the reaction to Bachchan's visit from the adoring public in Leeds last week was anything to go by, "the county is in for the time of its life".
Mubarak Khalifa, a 30-year-old cleaner at the Leeds station, was among those who had turned out to greet Bachchan. He said: "I can't believe I've just seen him in the flesh. It's amazing, really amazing, to have him here in Leeds."
Later sweeping across Leeds, Bachchan combined the famous baritone with characteristic modesty and courtesy, and charmed one and all at the Leeds Civic Hall where he addressed a gathering of nearly 200 politicians, business leaders and others.
Moved by the warmth of his reception, Bachchan said: "I am so happy with the hospitality, love and affection shown to all of us by the people of Yorkshire. It has been deeply emotional and I will carry that back with me to my country."
Speakers at the event included the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Mohammed Iqbal, who confessed to feeling more than a little starstruck. He said he had been a huge fan of Bachchan for many years.
Iqbal said: "I never thought I would welcome my icon, everybody's icon, to Leeds."
Bachchan was also presented with a symbolic white rose by Linda Pollard, deputy chair of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, an agency that played a key role in the county's successful bid for the IIFA event in the face of rival bids from New York and Barcelona to host the event.
Pollard said: "Events such as the IIFA Weekend will bring an economic boost to the Yorkshire and Humber region. In addition to the predicted tourism spend, the awards will also act as a catalyst to access a new market.
"It will forge stronger business and cultural links between Yorkshire and India, which is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. What is equally as important is the message this sends about the region. Resulting media coverage will give Yorkshire and Humber the chance to introduce its world-class tourism, culture, business, film locations and creative industries to a new international audience of more than 300 million people.
"Hosting an event of this scale will underpin the region's credentials as a major player for international events, building on the success of Royal Ascot at York in 2005."
The main awards ceremony is scheduled at Sheffield's Hallam FM Arena, and other events will happen in and around Leeds. They include: a celebrity cricket match at Headingley Carnegie stadium, where Sachin Tendulkar, who played for Yorkshire in county cricket, is expected to turn out; an Asian market at the Corn Exchange; the world premiere of a Bollywood movie at Castleford's Cineworld cinema; a business forum at the Royal Armouries museum; performances of a play called Bollywood Jane at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; and a grand networking dinner at the Leeds Town Hall.
The Leeds Mela, the city's annual celebration of Asian culture, is normally held in August, but this year it will take place over the weekend of June 9 and 10. It has been given a new name, Bollywood in the Park.
Some IIFA events will also be held in the neighbouring town of York, including the York Indian Film Festival. Also set to perform is the Bollywood Baja Band, which will play everything from Bhangra to Jazz.
David Atkinson, chief executive of City of York Council, said: "The city of York, as a great international destination, welcomes the IIFA delegates and guests to Yorkshire.
"This is an excellent opportunity to showcase the culture and creativity of York and the region to such an important and influential audience and we look forward to giving them an enthusiastic welcome."