IIFA brings people together: Sabbas Joseph

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IIFA co-founder Sabbas Joseph

Sabbas Joseph, co-founder of IIFA, holds a master’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and went on to study Journalism at the Xavier’s Institute of Communications.

He then returned to the institute to teach A/V film making, journalism and held several workshops on script writing for films.

Joseph is also a former journalist who has worked with some of India’s leading publications and is now a director and co-founder of Wizcraft International Entertainment.

He has managed several mega corporate events for the company along with creating and managing the IIFA Awards for the last 17 years.

Excerpts of an e-mail interview with Joseph:

Q: Why did you start the IIFAs, what made you want to start them?

A: We started with the simple thought process; we want to take the Indian cinema to the world, across the seven seas right to the midst of its fans to celebrate the glory, the success and the joy of Indian cinema. While doing so we discovered and realized that we had begun as a simple event and are being able to translate into shared experiences, shared cultures and shared happiness, which we saw as building bridges across the globe using cinema as a platform that connects people with the spirit of one-people-one-world; looking at what could be achieved and having the opportunity to bringing the world together.

IIFA gave itself probably its largest destination possible that we thought will bring the world closer together, to use IIFA to connect business, cultures, and cinemas and communicates together. Wherever you come from, IIFA has a story for you, irrespective of background, country, economic status, culture; IIFA has something for you, and that is the magic of cinema and that in many ways is what the IIFA story is all about.

Q: What was your vision when you started the IIFAs and how has it evolved?

A: We started the IIFAs in the year 2000. It was an award ceremony held in another country and Indian stars celebrated with the world. It evolved into a movement in bringing the world closer together. It evolved into premieres, musical showcases, film workshops, film festivals, film award ceremony and a global business forum. All of this we believe went on to build a story of its own.

On the back of every IIFA, we should look at the impact it has made short term on the economy, hotel visitation, and use of local vendors, employment, retail therapy and purchases across malls and high end stores. Also, the community engagement and utilization of local resources and business opportunities created partnerships to be used in the future. It’s interesting to see how the number of flights to a particular destination has increased and it’s magical to see how economic opportunities bind us all together long after the IIFAs are done.

IIFA brings people together; excites them about partnership opportunities and what tomorrow can offer them. Sometimes, years after IIFA is held, these partnerships go on to deliver phenomenal results in business. Often IIFA stories are also about film treaties that were signed and film tourism that is unlashed on the back of IIFA. Wherever stars travelled, Indian tourism has increased; by 90 percent in business and by 25 to 35 percent in long term and short term business.

Also, community engagement like volunteering programs to educate children, dance programs that engages the community and brings out the best in them, have also increased. Different communities come and work together, celebrate together, making the world a better place thanks to the IIFAs. People look forward for such events that bring them the chance to work together.

Q: Many stars have been associated with IIFA through the years and some have left, how has that affected the big picture?

A: Many stars have been associated with IIFA over the years, I don’t believe anyone has left, if they have left, they have left us for heaven abode. It’s an ongoing journey; it evolves. Cinema throws up different legends, different stories and icons for every generation. The icons change, the stars change and person of relevance changes; so in time, IIFA represents that changing cinema and the evolving stars.

I think they have never left. It’s sometimes their hectic schedule, their own challenges of film shooting lifestyle that keep them away from one or two editions of IIFA and then they are back with a bigger act the next time around. So the IIFAs are ever changing, ever evolving and in many ways reflect what Indian cinema represents today.

Q: Is there always a main star you count on each year?

A: I think every year, every event has a lead hero and yes, we look upon for a lead star every year and that lead star changes every year. The choice of stars depends on who has most relevance, who has given the biggest hit, biggest film and who is available. It’s all of this that ensures we choose our talent and for us IIFA is open for all. Everyone is invited; a few go up on stage to perform.

Q: Since the sets change every year and some stars have performed more than once, do they feel any different each time they perform?

A: The sets do change every year and they must change every year because every year IIFA represents the newest technology available, the culture and graphics of that country and at the same time its fusion of India of that particular year; hence, the IIFA stage is always changing, ever evolving, representing the destination and IIFA story.

Yes, it’s different as we organizers feel it’s different, so as dancers, technicians, they all make it different from the last time. Stars look for that difference; they want a difference, they don’t want it to be same and that difference comes through bigger the life.

Q: How have the IIFAs evolved overall?

A: The beauty about the large event is that it’s magnetic and its magnetism draws all of us to come and become part of it and that story is something we look forward to, it catches our imagination. Bollywood is the one element that connects us from all across the world; it connects India with the world. India’s cricket is powerful to India, every Indian cricketer belongs to India, not the rest of world. Every Indian politician belongs to India only. The only two aspects that really reach out across the world are Bollywood cinema and music.

Creating a mega Bollywood event is not what we planned for, but we saw that need and opportunity as we worked on Filmfare, Zee Cine Awards, Feminas and in years they have developed from 1990s to now. As we started IIFA in 2000, we stopped working on all other film activities, till the IIFA settled in and in many ways IIFA represents our view to the world and how events can be used to bring the world closer together and celebrate together.

Q: Before the IIFAs, you were in the media, what made you want to create a large, international Bollywood event?

A: My personal dream is to take the IIFA to different destinations in territories that are struggling to maintain peace, struggling to live with each other and help build community engagement, community involvement and community harmony, because the world will be a better place if we build one world-one community.

Q: Where do you see IIFA going in the future?

A: As a company we are completely engrossed and completely involved with the idea of creating new experiences and it has to do with experiential venues, plays, movies and virtual realities and the experience. Having said that, this is something constantly in motion and constantly in development and over the last few years, we had three theatrical productions that have hit the stage.

All of them have got overwhelming responses. I think as long as there is cinema there will be big budgets; as long as there are big ideas, there will be big budgets. Bigger the ideas, bigger the budgets. Cinema is a journey for every creative force and as long as creativity exist in the world, cinema will exist and keep getting bigger, better and more profitable.

IIFA already has IIFA Utsavam focused on the stars of the South; we will look forward for opportunities to combine the South and Bollywood on same platform at different stages. I definitely think as world gets closer, I do hope the north and the south of India also begin to work together creating a common language of cinema.

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