IT WAS love at first sight.
The year, 2007. The city, London. The place, the House of Commons. It was about 2pm and my first visit to Westminster. I was thrilled to be one of the few media personnel invited to attend the conference at which Amitabh Bachchan, as IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) brand ambassador, was to give a welcome speech and announce IIFA Yorkshire.
The grandeur of the House of Commons, the extraordinary sculptures you pass on your way to the grand hall - everything looked perfect. I entered the hall - cameras, cameras and more cameras. All the top broadcast channels from the UK were ready to film the mighty Big B as he strode in with Tessa Jowell, then the Minister of Culture, Foreign Office minister Keith Vaz, Lord Swaraj Paul, NRI Industrialist and British Ambassador for Overseas Business, the Indian High Commissioner, Kamlesh Sharma, and scores of members of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The dignitaries gave some memorable speeches, including Tony Blair, and later a photo call featured the two Big Bs - Bachchan and Ben.
I was very much struck by what the brand ambassador had to say: "About 50 to 60 years ago, acting in films was not considered an honourable profession and, in fact, many families disapproved of their children taking to acting. But today it is a matter of pride that I am being showered with love and affection in this august house, mainly because of the eminence and appreciation the Indian films have earned overseas."
After the conference, I was on the same train as Mr Bachchan heading to Yorkshire, where he was to announce the IIFA awards in the north. The following morning, I was sitting opposite Big B in my first one-on-one interview for the IIFA. Agreat moment.
If torch-bearer Bachchan was busy then, he is doubly busy now, as the IIFA prepares to take Macau by storm in what's said to be a golden decade for the IIFA.
His speeches, his humorous remarks, his dazzling performances on stage, honouring the lifetime achievers, all make IIFA so worthwhile. For me the awards are about this one man, Amitabh Bachchan, who has lifted the IIFA torch with utmost pride, passion and conviction for a decade.
I met him a couple of weeks ago, when he was announcing the IIFA Macau in Mumbai's Grand Hyatt.
His eyes were blue like a cloudless sky, a day full of sun. There was endless love and comprehension in those eyes - it's what I remember the most, the expression of his eyes.
He did not look like the man on the screen, but a simple human being whose charm has a sort of childish innocence, which has transformed him into a symbol of what India is for the rest of the world.
I spoke to this immaculate personality regarding the 10th IIFA Awards; a man admired, loved and worshipped the world over for his support for the Indian film industry - the larger than life Amitabh Bachchan.
Let's go back to the start of the IIFA. What made you decide to be an ambassador for an event which no one had heard of?
I always work on my instinct and today I am proud be associated with IIFA. There was a time when no one knew actors outside India, but today people around the world recognise us immediately. They know the names of characters I have played in my films. They are interested and excited about what our kind of cinema offers in terms of wholesome entertainment. This was all possible because of IIFA.
I knew right from the very beginning that the IIFA would become bigger and better over the years to come.
The golden decade for the IIFA. How much have you grown in these 10 years along with the IIFA?
This year is truly exciting for us, as we celebrate a decade of the IIFA magic. The Videocon IIFA Weekend in Macau promises to be a unique experience. IIFA has put Indian cinema on the global platform so, as the brand ambassador, I wish IIFA many more years of success.
IIFA is like a family and every individual wants his family to flourish so I am no different. IIFA has taught me a lot and given Indian cinema a great global exposure.
What appealed to you besides the fact that the IIFA is the only Indian award function taking place beyond Indian shores?
There is no single reason for me to be associated with IIFA, there are plenty. IIFA is very special to me and Iam committed to enhancing the IIFAphenomenon every year.
Besides taking Indian cinema to international shores, IIFA develops and promotes direct relationships between industries and organisations around the world. It is an interactive platform-enhancing business and bilateral trade opportunities.
IIFA has grown from one amazing night to the IIFA Weekend, working effectively as a movement dedicated to promoting Indian cinema beyond India and placing it on an international platform by fostering exchange and interaction to enhance business opportunities.
Come to think of it, you're involved in a world of film-making that people think of as extremely consuming, high-powered and even cut-throat. Does the same apply to award functions?
I will not be able to comment on other awards functions but I know for a fact that the IIFA awards are very fair and IIFA's nomination process itself is different. The entire film industry is involved in it.
We follow a standard and transparent procedure monitored and audited by PriceWaterCoopers. We take the integrity and honesty of this process very seriously.
Out of the nine IIFAs you've been a part of, is there one in particular that has had a profound effect on you and why?
This is indeed a very difficult question, because all the IIFAs that Ihave attended were different. Every IIFA proves to be better than the last one - that's how we have accomplished a distinct 10-year journey. It is very heartening to see IIFA grow to this scale and prominence over the years.
IIFA entering its 10th year is a testament to its endurance and importance in the industry.
Have you visited Macau before? And is there anything in particular you're looking forward to in what's known as the Las Vegas of Asia? The Venetian?
This was my first time in Macau. The Venetian Macau Resort Hotel is a renaissance Venetian-themed luxury hotel and casino, modelled on its sister casino in Las Vegas. It is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and is considered to be the continent's most exciting destination.
I was thrilled to explore the venue on my very first trip and I'm looking forward to visiting again.
Aren't you fascinated with our Indian fans abroad, to see them come to support an event like IIFA?
IIFA has given me a broader understanding of my fans. It is an ideal platform to know and connect with them internationally. The love and adulation that Indian cinema receives is beyond imagination.
It is a very humbling experience.
How was your Macau trip and how did the press interactions go? I mean, Macau isn't a city where Indian films are prominently showcased, is it?
The press interactions were fine. The experience was phenomenal. I am looking forward to being there again for the Videocon IIFA Weekend 2009, between June 11 and 13.
The 10th year celebrations this year at the IIFA will be packed with surprises. Anything from your end we should look forward to?
Wait and watch!
OOPS! We erred last week when we said our interview with Bollywood starlet Minissha Lamba was a two-parter. Apologies to any disappointed fans.