India, a nation of over a billion people with a rich and diverse culture, has leveraged the brand "India" to the world for a good part of the last two decades. Its major rise to the status of an emerging superpower stems not only from its military might, but also its ability to carve out a place for itself on the global stage through the projection of its "Soft Power." The concept is summed up well by Shashi Tharoor during his TED Talk in 2009.
In a world where perceptions and brands rule, India has mastered the art form rather well and continues to cash in through its art, music, dance and culture. Gone are the days when yoga was purely an eastern phenomenon practiced by the yogis in solitude. Indeed, yoga now is a global billion dollar industry, partly thanks to its branding.
The Indian film industry, commonly known as Bollywood, continues to be a major front-runner in exporting India's cultural relevance to the world, similar to what Hollywood does for the U.S. In recent years, Bollywood has successfully tapped into this global South Asian diaspora and beyond through movie premieres, award ceremonies, cultural exchanges, and appearances held regularly outside of India.
Whether it's Singapore or Macau, Malaysia or Morocco, England or Germany, South Africa or Canada, Bollywood has managed to carve out a niche for itself, a niche that can have significant impact on the economics of the city it tours.
The Times of India, one of the largest circulated English-language newspapers in the world, has been behind a number of cultural initiatives, notably "India poised," and is launching a new cultural initiative in the form of an awards ceremony called the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA). The first one is to be held in Vancouver.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark made the official TOIFA announcement this week. The province is investing $11 million towards the events that in effect will create jobs here in B.C. on the long run. According to initial estimates, the three-day event is expected to generate between $13-18 million for the province.
Reactions within the South Asian community are mixed; some are touting it as a political ploy to gain South Asian votes.
What remains to be seen is if the community and businesses at large will be able to tap into the longer term business opportunities an event of this nature can provide. Vancouver, with its mild weather and beautiful natural beauty, is an ideal location for the filming of Indian films, yet predominantly unexplored by the Indian film community.
TOIFA, with millions of viewers, and the Times of Indian's penetration into the huge Indian middle class, may perhaps be an opportunity to elevate British Columbia's profile.
Bollywood stars have a huge following in India and abroad; they're considered national ambassadors and receive official protocol in most cities they frequent. Many locations around the world compete aggressively to host the film production for Bollywood films featuring A-list stars. London, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai, New York, New Zealand and Switzerland all have a familiar ring to a tourism hungry Indian audience; British Columbia perhaps will ring well on the sound of tourism dollars and film productions.
Through a micro lens, TOIFA is just another event that B.C. is hosting with limited benefits. But on a macro level, Canada is yet an untapped market for India to increase its strategic cultural depth and increase its "Soft Power" footprint.