Canadians not of South Asian descent may have trouble wrapping their heads around just how flipping huge Bollywood stars loom in the lives of the Indian diaspora.
“The level of idolatry is unprecedented,” says Toronto-based actress Lisa Ray, who lived in Mumbai and worked in Bollywood for more than a decade.
Vinay Virmani, one of the stars of Breakaway, a Hollywood/Bollywood fusion flick set to premiere in September, was also born and raised in Toronto. “Bollywood film stars are held in such high regard within many households that people literally can’t distinguish between onscreen and off-screen sometimes. So the actors are idols, and they have to be very responsible about how they conduct themselves.”
That means they have a talk to walk: Women, especially, have to be demure. “You may see a low back on a sari, but that is as racy as you will get,” says Mohit Rajhans, the film critic for Omni TV’s Bollywood Boulevard and CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning. “You see some little minidress costumes on screen, but at premieres and awards the women always look regal.”
Among both the fêters and the fêted this long bollyweekend there is likely to be a real mix of traditional garb and funkier western gear.
Toronto-born Marissa Bronfman is a blogger and contributor to The Huffington Post who recently relocated to Mumbai to cover the Bollywood beat. “When I worked in Toronto and New York, my uniform was basic black,” Bronfman says. “Since I moved to India, though, I’ve come to appreciate it as a rare place that still appreciates traditional dress. I’ve become passionate about colour and embellishment.”
Bronfman packed “a real mixed bag” for a trip home to cover International Indian Film Academy events. “Colourful, embellished Indian skirts with a crisp white blouse.”
Ray similarly plans to mix things up, day over day. “I also love to wear Canadian,” says the actress, who appeared Tuesday at the Mad Hot Ballet fundraiser in a turquoise column sheath by Andy The Anh. Speaking on a Bollywood cultural panel at the ROM Wednesday, she had Kim Newport-Mimran whip up “an orange-red tribute to Bollywood.” She may go with an old-school sari this weekend.
The men, however, will be too-cool-for-school despite the black-tie call for Saturday night’s awards. “The James Dean thing started with Amitabh Bachchan. It is hard to overstate how important he is in the Bollywood image of itself,” says Rajhans. “He has successfully influenced style for five decades now.”
Think of Bachchan as Marlon Brando meets Robert De Niro. “He is unbelievably charismatic. Some of the actors who imitate his rugged working-the-graphic-T-shirt bad-boy look end up being style over substance. But Bachchan endures.”
His son, Abhishek Bachchan, is one of the idols made in his image, and with his marriage to international breakthrough beauty Aishwarya Rai they have become the Brangelina of Bombay. The family is not appearing at the IIFA Awards in Toronto, though the younger Bachchans stole headlines Wednesday when they announced they were pregnant.
Among the stars who did come to town, a contingent set out to raid The Room at the Bay on Queen St. Wednesday night when the store was shut down so they could spruce up their western togs without the throngs that have camped out outside the Fairmont Royal York hotel. Stars who attended include Mallika Sherawat, Sonu Sood and Omi Vaidya.
Ray, a half-Indian, half-Polish beauty who most recently appeared in the dance-drama Taj at Luminato and is an alum of Deepa Mehta films (Mehta made her own headlines this week, calling the IIFA Awards “Indian kitsch”), now has one foot in South Asia and one in Toronto/Hollywood. “Now when I go back, things have really shifted. These days everything goes. High-end couture designers, especially Armani, Ferragamo, the Italians, have made serious inroads in the entertainment worlds.”
There is a long association between designers and actors on the subcontinent. Indian fashion shows generally end with what is called a “showstopper,” in which the designer’s Bollywood muses close the runway show in the best outfits.
(Source: Toronto Star / Leanne Delap)
(Photo: George Pimentel)