B.C. politics becomes a Bollywood saga

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      By Shachi Kurl

      Timing is everything in B.C. politics. And wouldn’t you know—it’s also the essence of thousands of Bollywood films.

      A chance meeting that develops into forbidden love? Bollywood. The moment the evil uncle clunks granny on the head and makes off with the family fortune, leaving the heroine a pauper? Bollywood.

      But who thought Bollywood, India’s prolific Hindi-film industry, would be at the centre of a dramatic saga of its own, playing out on location over the next five months across British Columbia’s political soundstage?

      In an election year, the announcement of an $11-million investment from the B.C. government 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 B.C.’s homegrown film industry and the opposition B.C. New Democrats. Sitting in darkness, watching the tableau, popcorn in hand, are B.C. 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 concurrent. So too is the case when arguing the value of bringing this awards show to Vancouver. Allow me to separate them out.

      The Policy

      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 GDP of US$4.4 trillion.

      The country boasts a booming middle class—more nouveau riche than even Dubai can entertain, and a healthy relationship with Canada, and particularly B.C. and Ontario, as a result of large émigré communities settled here.

      In pursuing economic payoffs, previous governments have spent more. B.C. allocated $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.

      We spent about $800 million on Expo 86. It ran a $311-million deficit, but brought billions back into B.C. in the ensuing years.

      The B.C. government is estimating a payoff of $13 million to 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.

      Could $11 million be spent on other more pressing needs? Yes. But if we agree that you sometimes have to spend money to make money, and as long as this is money being spent wisely, it’s the responsibility of any government to pursue economic gain where and when it can. Indeed, the bid for the 2010 Olympics was a process started by then-NDP premier Glen Clark. His government opened a trade office in India too.

      The Politics

      Having read all that, you think it would be case closed, roll credits, but for 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 B.C. while 4,000 B.C.-based film-industry employees gather to protest the decline of their trade doesn’t make for happy endings. People who live in B.C. will vote in May’s general election. People from Mumbai won’t.

      This 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 B.C.’s offerings. It’s never good when we fight among ourselves.

      Whether B.C.’s film industry can sustain this as a wedge issue during the election campaign remains to be seen. And if the B.C. Liberals can’t find a way to appease the industry, it may walk away and yield ground on this issue to the NDP, seeking other voters instead. Which brings us back to Bollywood, and one hell of a photo-op.

      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. The premier smiling with a Shahrukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan trumps the Opposition leader smiling with a local community do-gooder on the interest-o-meter every time.

      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. Did South Asian Bollywood fans cheer him like a matinee idol when he walked on stage? Yes. Would they have probably cheered if it had been Gary Bettman or Oscar the Grouch? Yes. It’s the IIFAs! Everyone’s in a good mood!

      It’s also worth pointing out that big moves were made on that campaign, notably the cancellation of a controversial contract to build a power plant in Mississauga. The cost of that cancellation—$180 million—ended McGuinty’s premiership. In other words, Bollywood ain’t a magic bullet.

      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.

      The Price Check

      So put the politics aside, and let’s go back to check the promised benefits of bringing TOIFA to B.C. 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, B.C.’s economy will thank Bollywood if more decide to come.

      The premier touts the Times of India Group’s reach, 90 million people, who will be influenced by all the lovely things it will say about Vancouver. But a check of the Times of India main webpage the day after the announcement reveals no mention of the awards or our fair city. Maybe it will. Hopefully soon.

      Finally, that $13-$18 million anticipated payoff? It’s based on projections from Ontario hosting the IIFA’s, a much more established awards show. Though the TOIFAs are being hailed in B.C. media as the “Bollywood Oscars”, that honour actually belongs to the 58-year-old Filmfare awards, handed out just days ago. The IIFA’s might be compared to the Golden Globes. The awards coming to Vancouver may be better described as the MTV Video Music Awards.

      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.

      The Pronouncement

      Still with me? Emotionally spent? Worn out? Welcome to Bollywood. No flick ever less than 2.5 hours. Ever. So how does this story conclude? If it’s a happy ending for B.C. taxpayers, you’ll hear about it. If it’s a happy ending for the B.C. 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 B.C. politics too.

      Shachi Kurl is a Bollywood fan, former reporter, and director of communications at Vision Critical Follow her on Twitter @shachikurl.


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      Jan 24, 2013 at 7:12pm

      To BC taxpayers: The $285 million film and TV tax incentive is a REBATE not a subsidy. Until two years ago, about $1.2 billion in revenue was generated annually which meant the industry injected almost $1 billion into the provincial economy every year. Because the current Government has refused to remain competitive with other provinces, most productions no longer shoot in BC which has slashed revenue to PRACTICALLY NOTHING and created massive unemployment. Understand that BC taxpayers are NOT SAVING $285 million. You are in reality LOSING the nearly billion dollars of taxable revenue that was invested in the local economy every single year. Please join us in supporting We Create BC.

      To the BC film and television industry: Please post a version of this statement and encourage your BC-based Facebook friends to share so we can continue to generate public support.

      Hollywood Sam Here

      Jan 24, 2013 at 8:42pm

      The BC Government says it does the best it can to support its Citizens who work in the BC Film and TV Industry - Bullshit I say!!!!!

      The Location filming fees charged by PavCo, Canada Place and the Van Art Gallery have placed these BC Citizen owned facilities out of reach for Low Budget Bollywood shows and any Canadian Financed Production, which by definition is a small budget production. Please read on.

      $5,000.00 plus additional costs to film on the outside sidewalk of BC Place when nothing is going on inside the Stadium. A PavCo Managed building.

      $10,000.00 a day to film on Jack Poole Plaza near the Olympic Torches. PavCo manages this area.

      $10,000.00 a day to film on the Plaza in front of Canada Place, PavCo now controls the Plaza in front of Canada Place.

      $10,000.00 a day to film on the sidewalk around Canada Place in the areas still under Canada Place Management.

      One day to prep, one day to shoot and one day to wrap in the old court rooms in the Vancouver Art Gallery, $20,000.00 by the time you have paid for everything.

      The City of Toronto allows filming on all City of Toronto Property for FREE, that's right folks FREE, LIBRE, NOTHING!!!!!!! You just pay hard costs, security, liaison and electrical hookup costs.

      Now I know that the new roof at BC Place cost $560 Million dollars, the New Convention Center cost $960 Million dollars and the Vancouver Art Gallery wants a new building that is currently estimated at $250 Million dollars.

      That's close $1.3 Billion dollars that has to come from somewhere, So soak the Film Companies for every dime they DON"T HAVE, is not an answer.

      In order to get the whole Film Budget spent in BC, these and all Government Owned Facilities should be made available at cost. Radical, I know.


      Jan 25, 2013 at 10:34am

      I have friends that can't pay their mortgages because films are going everywhere else. The Liberals obviously don't care about them. Guess its time to vote NDP.

      Hollywood Same Here Again

      Jan 25, 2013 at 3:43pm

      Pardon my math skills, the total for the new roof at BC Place, the New Vancouver Convention Center and the New Art Galley the City of Van wants to build, is $1.77 Billion $$$$$$$

      I have been working with Indian Based (Bollywood Films) for 4 years. The issue of Outrageously High Location fees charged by PavCo was brought to both Minister Bells and the Premiers attention.

      They told us (4 Bollywood Films) to go fly a kite and that PavCo could charge Film Companies whatever they liked.

      So now when I tour an Indian Film Producer and Director around Downtown Vancouver, I let them know how ashamed I am at the fees being charged by facilities I OWN as a Canadian and BC Taxpayer.

      I can hardly wait for May 2013.

      Politics as usual

      Jan 26, 2013 at 8:37pm

      Toronto and Ontario are way ahead when it comes to promoting their film and tv production infrastructure. IIFA was part of that strategy, they don't just want to rely on hollywood alone. By the way the event coming to BC is a 58 year old awards show held every year which changed its name from Filmfare awards to TOIFA when the times of india group took over so this is no small or copycat event its the original awards show watched by 1 billion people worldwide. Besides 11 million spent will bring in 13-18 million when its all done, thousands of people that came from as far as New York, London and India paid $1000-1500 per ticket to watch the Toronto event not to mention the hotels and the hsopitality industry that benfitted and unlike the 2010 Olympics there were no empty seats on any of the events in those three days.

      Adrian Dix and the NDP are surprisingly clueless about this despite having better support among south asians. Adrian might just have shot himself in the foot by his rushing to LA to meet hollywood executives, a strange way to say they(bollywood) are the 'other' and hollywood(American) is us. They fail to grasp the fact that Bollywood movies are playing to packed houses here in BC as we speak as they always do, sustaining jobs here and also they shoot regularly in BC, right now a full bollywood 3D movie has just finished its enitre shooting in Squamish. Last year's most succesful Punjabi Bollywood production was also shot in the lower mainland. These comments by the NDP and some not so veiled tasteless comments directed at the industry and the community online are being read all over the world unfortunately, as Bollywood has a following outside of india in south east asian countries, south america, east africa and the middle east as well.

      Hollywood Sam Once Again

      Jan 27, 2013 at 12:23pm

      Dear Politics as usual,

      You do sound like "Politics as Usual" and I suspect you are someone with very close ties to Premier Christy Clark.

      1 I am sure that the contract that P. Clark signed with the Times of India gives them complete control and ownership of this event.

      2 Who will win these awards, most likely the films that have spent the most money advertising in the TOI. Unless the BC Auditor General is monitoring the voting.

      3 Any revenue that is generated from seat sales and advertising will most likely go to the TOI as they WILL OWN THE EVENT.

      4 Folks in Toronto paid top dollar to see A-List Indian Actors - who will be comming to a D-List Film and TV Festival????

      I guess what bothers me the most as a BC Film and TV Worker is my $11 Million Tax Dollars will be spent in the following manner;

      1 First class airfare from India
      2 First class accommodation
      3 Limousines and all hotel extras - mini bars, meals & phone bills
      4 New clothes so the Actors can look their best
      5 Appearance fees for True Major stars who could care less about this sham.

      This will not generate one permanent job in BC.

      No more BCLiberals

      Jan 27, 2013 at 2:13pm

      RE: the Indian economy - There is also millions living in abject poverty right beside 7-star hotels and an immense psychological divide amongst the classes of this country - do we really want to continue to contribute to this gross inequity when we, right here in BC have a similar division between our upper, middle and lower classes?

      RE: the estimated influx of immigrants and their money - Stats Canada shows us that we don't need to send $11 million hard-earned dollars straight from the pockets of BC residents to The India Times.
      The main concentration of the Indo-Canadian population is found in the Metro Vancouver/Fraser Valley Region and the Greater Toronto Area, however there are growing communities in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton and Montreal. According to Statistics Canada, since the late 1990s roughly 25,000-30,000 Indians arrive each year (which is now the second-most populous cultural group immigrating to Canada each year, behind Chinese immigrants who are the largest group). The settlement pattern in the last two decades is still mainly focused around Vancouver, but other cities such as Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal have also become desirable due to growing economic prospects in these cities..
      There are numerous radio programs that represent Indo-Canadian culture. A number of Canadian television networks broadcast programming that features Indo-Canadian culture. These television shows often highlight Indo-Canadian events in Canada, and also show events from India involving Indians who reside there. In addition, local community access channels also present local Indo-Canadian content, and Indian content from India.
      In recent years, there has been an establishment of Indian television networks from India on Canadian television. Shan Chandrasehkhar made a deal with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to allow Indian television networks based in India to send a direct feed to Canada branded under his own company Asian Television Network. Major newspapers include Canindia News in Toronto & Montreal, The Asian Star and The Punjabi Star in Vancouver and The South Asian News in Edmonton and Calgary.

      I just checked the Times of India website today (January 27) and still not one single word about these awards or any information that would entice the masses to flock to BC.


      Jan 28, 2013 at 10:16am

      Hey Hollywood Sam, since you work in the film industry you probably have no idea what it is like when the very disruptive and arrogant film crews come into your place of work to film some, quickly forgotten P.O.C. Charge more I say!

      Hollywood Sam - for the Last Time

      Jan 28, 2013 at 12:21pm

      Dear Bored

      If a Film or TV production came to your place of work - the owners of your place of work were paid. I Location Manage Film and TV Productions and we do not go and Film anywhere until contracts are signed and fees are paid.


      Jan 29, 2013 at 9:47pm

      @ Hollywood Sam: you can't fool all the people all the time. If it was such a d-list event why would megastar Shahrukh khan promote it? he will be performing and so will other A-list stars. Why are you so against the hospitality and aviation industries, why are you against people that work at the various venues. Don't they have the right to earn a living....and you totally ignored the 40,000 visitors that came from the world over especially the UK and the US to Toronto to watch the stars last year, they paid top dollar and stayed and partied in the city. The same stars are coming to Vancouver, fans will come to watch them and spend money here, why are you so against Vancouver getting that money and that exposure?