By Shachi Kurl
Special to The Post
Timing is everything in BC politics.
And wouldn’t you know –it’s also the essence of thousands of Bollywood films.
In an election year, Bollywood, India’s prolific Hindi-film industry, is at the centre of a dramatic saga in the western most Canadian province.
The BC government's announcement of an $11 million investment to host the first-ever Times of India Film Awards was inevitably going to be high-profile – and contentious.
And so – cue the fight scene. The premier, her cabinet, and her party, against BC’s home grown film industry, and the opposition BC New Democrats. Sitting in darkness, watching the tableau, popcorn in hand, are BC voters, especially those belonging to the South Asian diaspora.
Now this wouldn’t be a true Bollywood saga unless there were three or four storylines running concurrently.
Allow me to separate them out.
There are those (including me) who say this is the exactly the type of thing all governments should be doing in the name of economic development.
India is a huge market, with a 2011 estimated GDPof $4.4 trillion US.
The country boasts a booming middle class – more nouveau riche than even Dubai can entertain, and a healthy relationship with Canada, and particularly BC and Ontario, as a result of large émigré communities settled here.
In pursuing economic payoffs– previous governments have spent more. BC’s spent $925 million to host the 2010 Olympic Games. The games broke even, according to VANOC. The full economic effects of having the world’s eyes trained on us have yet to be tallied.
The BC government is estimating a payoff of $13-18 million in spending during the awards.
TOIFA board member A.P Parigi, speaking on the Bill Good Show, predicted an economic multiplier effect that will be seen in two to three years, when millions of moneyed Indians choose Vancouver as a tourism destination.
Having read all that, you think it would be case closed.
Cue the horror-show optics surrounding this announcement.
The politics of telling people you’re spending a whack of cash to draw foreign filmmakers and crew to BC while 4000 BC-based film industry employees gather to protest the decline of their trade doesn’t make for happy endings.
People who live in BC will vote in May’s general election. People from Mumbai won’t.
BC's billion dollar industry claims it’s dying.
The Clark government says it’s put $285 million in tax credits and won’t spend any more.
Meantime, those incentives, originally offered to lure productions north of the border from Hollywood grow bigger in Ontario and Quebec as they seek to undercut BC’s offerings.
No matter which side of the political divide you’re on, pictures with India’s biggest celluloid stars are valuable currency to politicians wooing votes in the South Asian community. Or, at least, that’s the thinking. In an age of global celebrity, there are elements of truth to it.
But will it be enough? Liberal strategists following what they believe to be outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s path to electoral victory may be disappointed.
His government brought the International Indian Film Academy Awards to Toronto in 2011, and the Liberal leader mugged for every possible photo call he could.
NDP insiders find themselves rather bemused by the whole thing. After all, they reason, New Democrats have a longer relationship with and deeper reach into the community. They have more South Asian candidates running in this election than the Liberals. Will it be enough to beat the star power a Priyanka Chopra might bring to the ballot box? We’ll see.
So put the politics aside, and let’s go back to check the promised benefits of bringing TOIFA to BC, against reality.
One of the carrots being dangled is bringing Hindi film production to BC.
Newsflash: that’s been going on for years, under both NDP and Liberal governments. Consider 1997’s Pardes– shot in Vancouver, along with Koi Mil Gaya, released in 2003, and 2011’s Thank You. Chances are though; BC’s economy will thank Bollywood if more decide to come.The good news is people love awards shows. As long as fans and stars turn up, it may not much matter. But in an industry where starlets and heroes exit stage left weekly, the pressure is on for TOI to deliver the biggest luminaries and headliners to ensure the Clark government achieves its projected ROI.
Still with me?
Emotionally spent, worn out?
Welcome to Bollywood: No movie ever goes for less than 2.5 hours minimum.
So how does this story conclude? If it’s a happy ending for BC taxpayers, you’ll hear about it.
If it’s a happy ending for the BC Liberals, you’ll hear about it.
And if it’s not – well – you’ll hear about that too. Because tragedy or comedy, there’s always plenty of Dhoom! Dham! Dshoom! and Dhamaka! in Bollywood. And in BC politics too.
Shachi Kurl is the Director of Communications at Vision Critical.