Posted on August 3, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Bollywood North America

Anatomy of a Bollywood Award Show

Ever wonder how Bollywood award shows come together? The answer is: they very nearly don’t, and when they do, it’s with great difficulty.

IIFA, or the International Indian Film Academy, is a particularly tough event to pull off, as the IIFA Awards are held in a different country every year. While the show is often compared to the Oscars, bear in mind that the Oscars have had 88 years to streamline their production. If, like IIFA, the Oscars packed up and moved to a different country, a different culture, with a whole new staff and a new set of logistical hiccups every year…I imagine they would face a few obstacles, as well. Yet that is what IIFA tries to accomplish, and given that it is a rather Herculean task, it’s no surprise that stories are released annually about the madness, mayhem, and blatant disorganization that comes out at the IIFA Awards.

IIFA’s most recent award show, advertised as IIFA New York but actually held at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, was no exception. I got a chance to witness this first hand as a volunteer with the Public Relations team. Admittedly, we started off on a rocky note: I had applied for the job weeks beforehand, and had heard nothing back. It wasn’t until the day before the awards week officially started that they released the names of the four people chosen to work on the PR team. What was the cause for this delay, you might ask? I still have no idea; I only know that I barely had time to think, let alone pack, before I was sitting on a Greyhound bus for ten hours trying to get to New York City in time for work to begin.

This inexplicable disorganization set the tone for the rest of the week. Miraculously, all four last-minute PR tributes did manage to show up, and another four would have probably come in handy when it came to dealing with the over 600 media persons from around the world who showed up to cover the event. With outlets ranging from the BBC to popular Bollywood Twitter accounts, every platform and every manner of temperament was represented in the media center at New York’s Sheraton Hotel. It would have been a wonderful time for us all to come together and celebrate the mad, beautiful world of Bollywood…had it not been for the laminator.

Don’t ask me about how laminators work. All I know is that they’re of the utmost necessity when making press badges, which themselves are of the utmost necessity when managing a red (or, in this case, green) carpet. And when you have 600 press badges to make and only one laminator, you would be amazed at how quickly rational adults turn into rabid animals. Not that it isn’t understandable; when you’ve flown thousands of miles just to be held hostage by one stubborn laminator, you would probably be tempted to bare your teeth, too.

That’s when I realized that public relations is essentially just customer service on steroids. And the key to good customer service, I’ve learned, is to make sure people feel as if their concerns are being heard. At times our staff was so overextended, so sleep-deprived, so disenchanted that the human element in human interactions was all but forgotten. I saw an employee have a panic attack as she was swarmed with media personnel yelling at her (she later turned and simply walked away, which was perhaps good for her sanity, but quite terrible for my own). I saw an elderly woman reduced to tears after being made to stand in line for hours, only to be turned away at the door despite having all the credentials she was required to present. The belief, I suppose, was that the process would move along more quickly if we treated public relations as if it were an assembly line, but that logic is flawed. Meeting frustration with indifference or combativeness only creates a hostile situation, and it spreads like wildfire around a packed media room until everyone is upset. I don’t know about others, but I cannot work like that. I would rather take an extra few minutes to acknowledge someone’s feelings, questions, and concerns than turn my back on them and throw my entire work environment for a toss. Whether I’m right or wrong in this approach, I don’t know, but IIFA certainly taught me that you can work hard and be taken seriously without being cruel or robotic. The best results, I observed, came from those employees who, amidst the madness and chaos of staging an awards show, never forgot their own humanity. If you attended IIFA and didn’t get to meet those employees, I’m truly sorry, because they are the backbone of the organization.

If there is one thing that I hope everyone takes away from this article, it’s that, contrary to what you might think, going behind the curtain in no way diminishes the magic of the film industry. This may be hard for some to believe, and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not experienced it myself. You see, I was always one of those people who openly criticized Indian award shows: the nominations were never right, the editing was choppy and repetitive, the production quality of the dance numbers was slowly eclipsing the need for actual dancing abilities. Negativity is contagious, and I caught it and spread it as virulently as anyone else with a strong opinion and internet access. But strangely enough, despite all the bumps in the road, the madness of IIFA restored my faith in Indian award shows. I was there just hours before the show, when the stage looked like it wouldn’t be ready for another month, let alone in time for an event that was meant to start that evening. I was there when dozens of media persons from around the world were turned away at the green carpet because we had reached full capacity. I was there when celebrity interviews went unattended, when the IIFA Rocks green carpet was cancelled due to temperamental weather, and when the stars showed up hours late because no one realized the evening commute from Manhattan to New Jersey could take so long. I spent so much time out in the sun without any food or water that I had to make a mad rush down the green carpet and into the venue to vomit, my face so sunburnt and my skin so clammy that I was allowed to sit next to Salman Khan himself while I recovered (my theory is that I simply looked too frightening to shoo away from the megastar). I was screamed at, pushed around, and pulled in so many different directions at once that I thought my brain would crack open.

And guess what? It was all totally, completely, and unequivocally worth it.

No feeling in the world can compare to the one you experience walking into a packed stadium of screaming fans, facing a stage filled with all your favorite stars. If negativity is contagious, so is excitement, energy, and the pure joy that comes with seeing your favorite actor dance to your favorite song. At the end of the night, when you finally get to sit down and watch the show that you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into, none of the imperfections matter anymore. So what if that actor you love is shorter in person? He’s still larger than life onstage, and the music and the lights and the people are all so beautiful that you forget everything except the magic of the movies. And if picking up and moving the IIFA Awards to a new location every year is what causes many of its technical problems, it’s also what allows hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world to experience that magic in person.

The IIFA Awards are certainly not perfect, and working behind the scenes is far from easy. But before you criticize the show for questionable nominations, or an editing mistake, or even pure disorganization, ask yourself, Am I not entertained? And if the answer is no, I would request that you check back in 80 years from now. That’s how long it took the Oscars to perfect its process (and even then, they still managed to flub the most important award of the night by announcing the wrong film’s name!). IIFA will get there eventually, and until it does, all we ask is that you sit back and enjoy the show. I know I did.