(L-R) Varun Dhawan, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt in the Metropolitan Ballroom at Sheraton, Times Square; Salman gets up close and very personal with Katrina!
A few dozen jet-lagged faces. Many, many more excited ones. And then a big cheer that quickly grows into a loud roar.
The 18th edition of the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) may have Bollywood’s who’s who making a beeline for New York this year, but on Thursday evening all eyes are only on one star, make that superstar, in the Metropolitan Ballroom at Sheraton, Times Square.
Salman Khan, dapper in a blue suit and sporting a Sultan-style beard, is obviously the biggest draw, with the loudest claps and cheers reserved for Bollywood’s favourite Bhaijaan.
“IIFA in New York is going to be the biggest yet and we guarantee you a lot of entertainment,” smiles Salman. And he proceeds to make good on his promise right here, right now. How? By claiming that he doesn’t remember dates too well — “Mera IIFA ka main performance kab hai?” he chuckles, and adds, “I remember only one date... Katrina (pause and smile)... Katrina’s birthday is on July 16 and we should all sing Happy Birthday to her!”
If that’s not enough, Salman steps forward to hug and cheek a smiling but visibly embarrassed Katrina, as the cheers grow louder.
Salman is clearly in the mood. “July 16 has become a national event. India mein toh chhutti hai, ab US mein bhi ho jayega,” the 51-year-old Khan later tells t2, prompting Katrina, seated next to him, to playfully slap him on the shoulder and almost beg him to stop!
Joining the couple, who were once in a relationship and now share an easy personal and professional equation, are Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sushant Singh Rajput and Kriti Sanon, all star attractions of the IIFA Weekend in New York.
While Shahid has been a part of many IIFAs — “I have hosted, I have performed and have also won an IIFA Award or two,” dimples the star actor, dressed in all black — it’s Alia’s IIFA debut. And she’s nominated for two Best Actress trophies — for Dear Zindagi and Udta Punjab — prompting a beaming Katrina to chip in with, “I hope Alia wins both the awards, so that she can give one of them to me for charity!” Bet the two actresses — who are quite thick off-screen — to high-five to that!
For Sushant Singh Rajput, life at IIFA has come full circle. “I performed as a background dancer at IIFA 2006 and at IIFA 2017, I have been nominated for Best Actor (M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story),” he says.
There is also Jackky Bhagnani introducing Carbon, a film set in 2067 when oxygen is a “product” to buy and sell. Directed by Jackky, the socially relevant film stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is part of Team IIFA.
But guess who gives Salman stiff competition when it comes to “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment” during the IIFA kickoff? West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who makes the stars on stage, Salman and Anupam Kher included, groove happily to his superhit Champion!
t2 encountered the Agrawal family on Day One of the IIFA Weekend, but they were fans with a difference. Wearing their support for our Khan-daan on their black tees — “Shah Rukh’s Fan” said dad Anand’s T-shirt, “Salman’s Fan” screamed out mom Deepika’s tee, while four-year-old Mahju’s said “Aamir’s fan” — the family from Miami is in New York for the weekend to experience the magic of Bollywood. While Deepika has been a Salman fan “all her life”, Mahju is a bigger fan of SRK than dad Anand. “But her tee was too small to print ‘Shah Rukh’ across it, so we exchanged fandoms!” smiled Anand, happily posing for t2.
Priyanka Roy in New York