exclusive by Devansh Patel
2000 London, 2001 Sun City, 2002 Malaysia, 2003 Johannesburg, 2004 Singapore, 2005 Amsterdam, 2006 Dubai, 2007 Yorkshire, 2008 Bangkok. It's been nine years of unlimited fun and entertainment where you saw the world's hottest and the most sought after acts on stage, where you witnessed your most loved Bollywood celebrity taking home their most deserved award, where you stood outside the red carpet braving the cold, hot and sometimes rainy weather only to get that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet your favourite celebrity in person, and where you adored the beautiful colourful flowing gowns and the more beautiful faces that compliment them. What started off as a one night affair at the Millenium Dome (now called the O2 Arena) nine years ago is now a three day weekend filed with activities, events, business tie-up's, world premieres and the biggest awards night of the Hindi Film Industry to take place outside our Indian soil. In the year 1988, Wizcraft International Entertainment was born. Come 2000, IIFA was born. And the ones to give birth is a strong, dedicated and a supportive team of the three Wiz Kids - Andre Timmins, Sabbas Joseph and Viraf Sarkari. Would you have ever in your wildest imagination thought that an ex DJ, a former journalist and an ex night manager of a hotel would've formed a formidable team that gave birth to one of the biggest brands in India called Wizcraft? What's even more interesting is when you get a chance to meet some of the most creative minds from the world of entertainment because you never know what they've got up their sleeves. Such an encounter took place yesterday at the J.W Mariott where one of the Wiz, Andre Timmins, took some time off from his busy schedule for Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist Devansh Patel where they recalled their last chanced encounter at the IIFA Yorkshire two years ago. But more than us remembering our long last chat, we hurriedly get on to the current one as that was sure to take more time with the coffee getting cold. Andre spoke in length about IIFA in its tenth year, the importance of voting for such awards, the global meltdown hitting the IIFA, the brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, what makes IIFA different from the rest of the award functions, his plans to rope in the entire cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire at IIFA 2009, his future plans to take IIFA back to England and a promise - that in IIFA's twentieth year, all the three Wiz Kids will perform on the stage. But before all the above began, the cute Wiz said those golden words, “ Ten years ago, the journey was driven by passion. Ten years later, we have the same passion or may be more”. A passionate chat continues....
IIFA is in it's tenth year now. A journey worth it's wait?
(smiles) Oh yes. When we started off in London in the year 2000, none of us knew what was in-store for us. Ten years ago, the journey was driven by passion. Ten years later, we have the same passion or may be more. For us, IIFA is very close. IIFA 2000 was a one night affair and was extremely difficult. It was even more difficult for the celebrities then to understand what we were trying to do. Across the board, as the years passed by, we realised that we had a winner on board. It's a win-win situation now. So as we sit back and look, we see that it's benefiting our country, our sponsors and the host country. We have created a home brand called IIFA which we've taken out across the globe today only to get the recognition it deserves.
You've just finished your voting weekend and we hear that it created history. Explain.
We've just finished the voting weekend three weeks ago with the first vote cast by Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Voting is the pulse of the industry. You're right, for the first time we did above 1500 individual votes and it's never happened before in nine years. So that itself gives us the encouragement that we want to go out there and do our best for the industry. There is a buzz out there and people in the industry want to come out and support IIFA.
The world is not going through the same win-win situation like you Wiz kids. Has the global meltdown hit IIFA too?
From the meltdown perspective, yes, its been tough. At one point, we were thinking of bringing back the IIFA to India for its tenth year. A lot of people suggested that to us in tough times. But if there is a good product, people will surely back it. That's what we are seeing in the support of our sponsors, support of Star Plus, support of the media, etc. Recession has brought the world to spend their money wisely. I mean, even the Academy had their lowest ever budget for this years Oscars.
And there can't be an interview without the mention of the great ambassador called Amitabh Bachchan.
(laughs) Without Mr Bachchan, IIFA would not be where it is. His support and passion to the brand is worth saluting. We sometimes get embarrassed because we go to him two or three months prior to the event for his dates. And he surprisingly accommodates us and has been doing it since a decade now. Today I know why people choose different people as ambassadors. For us, he is more of an advisor. He has got so much wealth of knowledge that you have no idea about. When he talks, and when you listen, and follow what he says, you're bang on target and will never go wrong.
There has been a lot of debate on award functions being biased. What really makes IIFA different from the rest of them?
We are the last in the row. The question is, how the industry perceives it. We believe that anything that you do, if you're not honest enough to do it in the right manner and don't have the guts to do it, you'll fail. I remember when I went to invite Anil Kapoor for the IIFA 2000, he said that he would come, and eventually did not turn up in spite being nominated. The first two or three years, we had a very tough time bringing in the nominees. Now here's what happened. Anil Kapoor won the award that year and we sent the trophy to his house. The next time I bumped into him, he said, “I did not come and I won the award”. That's what IIFA stands for. We are unbiased because our process is very different. We have the industry voting. You have to have an international release for you or your film to get nominated. Then it goes for voting. After that, the nominations are put open to the public. Then it goes to the public voting and finally the winners are chosen. There is no jury here. Over 600,000 people vote. 30% vote from America, 25% vote from the UK, the rest from India and the Middle East. IIFA doesn't invite the nominees alone, but the entire film fraternity grace the event. Last year, Shah Rukh Khan won the best actor award even though he doesn't grace the IIFA's. Now is that being biased?
I'm sure lobbying was great fun then?
Yes it was. We had the entire team from films like Jodha Akbar, Fashion, Rock On, etc. What does the Oscars do? The studios lobby. They keep showing their films to people there. You can't be sitting at home and not contributing. You need to go out and vote. You cannot say that I don't like tis government and so I won't vote. At least vote for the one you like. The majority of the people who came and voted this time around were not the stars but the technical teams. We've done the lobbying for the IIFA's, now it's your turn.
So how is it to turn green since IIFA Yorkshire?
Great. We support the environment in a big way and we're taking it up very seriously. We've done events like Light a Billion lives and plant a billion trees at the Unforgettable Tour. At IIFA Bangkok last year, we planted a tree with the Bachchan family. It's easy for us to endorse this thought provoking message through our celebrities because the world follows them, so why not follow them in their noble cause. We are the first people as far as the awards are concerned to take this cause forward. We want to go out loud and clear – We want to go green.
Any international celebrities gracing IIFA 2009?
(laughs) You want me to disclose the venue right?
We know where it is.
(laughs) Well, the world will know soon, come April mid week. I can tell my audience that this years IIFA are going to take place somewhere in Asia. Bollywood has worked with some of Asia's biggest stars in films, and we are trying to get them to the IIFA this year. We are also trying to get the entire cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire to the IIFA 2009 as it'll be their last award function before their journey ends.
We've been getting a lot of feedback from the UK for IIFA to return back next year 2010 to where it all started. Any plans for that?
England has always been home for us. While we were promoting IIFA 2000 around the world, I remember the entire anti-approach towards the show being held there. Millenium Dome is now called the O2, the same place where we did our Unforgettable Tour. So we would love to go back to England. In fact, we've got a lot of request from the region that they want to bring IIFA back. But as you know that we've just finished IIFA Yorkshire in 2007, it's too early to decide on taking it back. But we will someday.
Anything you'd like to remind people that June is coming...get ready for the IIFA's?
I wouldn't like to remind anything. But people like you'll, the media, who support us and get our message across the world should be thanked for this. We've got different ambassadors around the world, whether it's South Africa, UK, America, Europe, etc. We've managed to make friends like you who've spread our love to the people. This goes to everyone out there who've loved us, “Come and support us like you've always did, be a part of the IIFA 2009 and be there in person and enjoy our tenth year”.
I'm sure we've got great choreographers who can make all the three Wiz kids perform on the stage for the tenth year.
(laughs) Many people ask us in our meeting across different countries – Who does IIFA belong to? And we say – IIFA belongs to the Indian Film Industry. Seeing three of us on the stage is very rare and that too to shake our leg (laughs). The event is so large, that we all have our individual expertise. Viraf, one of the Wiz, has never ever witnessed any of the other events taking place except the main event which is the awards night. But this year, he will be able to see all the events because everything is happening under one roof. In our meeting last week, he said, “It's the first time I'll see the fashion show, it's the first time I'll be at the world premiere”. So that's the dedication we all have. I promise that we three Wiz kids will dance in our twentieth year (laughs).