My First IIFA Wasn’t An Easy Emotion, Two Years On, It Definitely Isn’t

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Two years ago, I made it to my first International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) Green Carpet. Something was special about it and will always be. I was invited as an independent mediaperson, which means I wasn’t called because I was an employee of a mainstream media organization but as an individual who has spent considerable amount of time in media industry and has a certain amount of reputation and reach. I went there as Preeti Hoon, representing my own blog – GorgeousWanderer(dot)com, now preetihoon.com, where you are reading me right now.

I remember discreetly how it felt at the first look of the mail invite. I was super ecstatic not about the fact that I will be at IIFA but more for the reason to have achieved it all on my own without any backing of a celebrated, known media outfit. That’s so me. I revere in the spirit of the standards I have set for my own self rather than being accepted by the worldly standards and its mostly unquestioned order.

It is far easier to be invited at an elite event like IIFA when you’re a part of a known media organization than being noticed as an independent professional for obvious reasons. Everything is served to you on a platter when you are on a payroll of a big media brand. You are treated like God and taken to new heights where you begin to feel the illusionary importance. Sometimes, you lose out on a good opportunity because of favouritism and biased working culture – very common in a media set-up. And, I realized that as early as in the sixth year of my professional life. Usually, you are only as good or significant for the world as your representation of the employer, of whom you are an immaterial, replaceable part of.

With excitement came pressure and worry. When you are an independent consultant in India and someone who’s strongly ethical and opinionated, it isn’t a cakewalk. It hasn’t been a cakewalk for me at least. IIFA invite came at a moment when I was waiting for my next project and money to flow in and attending the star-studded event in Bangkok meant I had to be a bit loaded to make the most of my outing.

The confusion around attending it or giving it a miss was making me feel low. But since I was at it, to make it happen somehow, things started to fall in place (that’s pretty much how it has been for me always when I don’t give up! And, I am just aghast on the easiness with which I am writing it down, not attempting to come close to the real shit I go through…)

Last time I visited Bangkok, it was with my parents and I am guessing I must be six years old and I had pretty much forgotten about the city by 2018, obviously! (Judging me for not having travelled to BANGKOK with my buds?! Ok then :D) So, there was some additional excitement and nervousness there.

I still remember when I was going to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi for some last minute formalities, I was crying on my way for multiple reasons that entangled in my mind then. I was feeling lonely, loneliness and a lone warrior that I’ve felt while being on my own for longest time now. No, am not going to sugar coat those mixed feelings with feel-good, positive words. Not this time around. I didn’t want to go alone.

But, as fate had it (there I go with my eternal spirit to rise), I gathered myself quickly as I arrived at the T3 metro station, completed the formalities and talked myself out of the low. I knew I had earned it and wasn’t giving it away to the devil of negative emotions.

All packed and set to fly on the D day, the feeling to make it to my first IIFA was finally sinking in.

My first forgettable experience, as I landed in Bangkok, was with the Taxi driver who seemed to be pretending to not know English and kept nodding to confuse me. I realized he was building it up for the final scene of payment where I would remain confused as to why he charged me extra and wouldn’t be able to hold a communication with him. Sigh.

And, then other series of incidents followed in the foreign land that were forgettable too, but looking back, they made up for the special memories that I wouldn’t want to part with, for they gave me the stage to show my soul of steel.

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The badge-broken-nail-shoebite saga😳 As the #IIFARocks ended, I somehow managed to make my way out of the auditorium in heavy gown & few shoebites and met a lady, local resident, who saw me little tired & offered to drop me to Sukhumvit as it was on her way. Few minutes later as I walked out with her, I realized I dropped my badge at my audi seat. I apologized & requested the lady to leave citing the reason. As I anxiously looked into my handbag & asked a security personnel to hold some stuff, she took it from him, handed it back to me & asked me to be safe.:) If you ever read this ma'am, I want you to know you were too sweet & kind, thank you🌸 As I tried to head back to figure the badge, I broke my nail from the root.😞 It started to bleed and I wasn't able to carry my dress, hence, couldn't walk back. I sat there & asked for help from the local team. The guy showed he understood what I wanted, medical help & badge, but made me wait for around an hour & didn't help. He asked his English-speaking senior to meet me who turned to be quite rude. Language barrier is one thing & being indifferent is another.😡 I just got up & left. Looked for taxi at 1 am and ended up hassled with another non-English speaking driver😖, who had a Eureka moment to dial into an English-speaking person & asked me to tell him the destination, my hotel.😓 Since you can know by now I had no time for food or water from the time I started to rush for the Green Carpet😑, I came back, changed & head out to eat. The toughest part was to come out of the gown😀with the injured finger coz it needed some serious strength. The best part about Bangkok – 24X7 outlets. At 3 am, bought nail cutter, band aid & decided to give Carls Jr a try. It serves mostly beef burgers. I've had an unpleasant taste of beef the last time I had it in a buffet in Mumbai & ever since I've stopped trying beef. Some food, some me-me-time (double me coz all my trip is anyway me😆) & a look back to what all happened. Fuck all, I had made it to my first ever IIFA Green Carpet, on my own.🙆🙌🙏 Universe God, thank you for making me your blessed baby.👼❤ #OneCarpeDiemAtATime #GorgeousWanderer #StoriesNotSoSimple #SoulStory

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And I found my soul story…❤ My debit card got sucked in by Siam Commercial Bank ATM where this guy was on duty. Since language is a big barrier, it was a hurculean task to make people understand your concern. I got CCTV cameras checked to confirm if I hadn't dropped it somewhere. I was really tensed as I had a morning flight to catch the next day. Just as when I was losing it on the Thai people who I found indifferent and finding ways to con, this man called me and started to speak in Thainglish (yeah! that's what am calling it when a Thai attempts to speak English). I obviously couldn't understand what he's speaking but could well feel he's trying to help. My friend had suggested me to download Google Translate and I used it with him. I made him understand the situation and he offered to speak to Customer Care in Thai. I sat down at the porch quite hassled and looked at him with hope as he made back to back calls from my phone and his while giving duty, signalling cars in & out. Obviously, it touched me (haan haan haan, aisa kaise ho sakta hai ki main emotional na houn haina, Im proud of feeling purely, too much) Operator finally picked, he explained and asked to get the English one on line. Bank takes usually two days to resolve and I didn't have time. Also, it blocks the card the moment the ATM machine sucks it in. So, there wasn't any point to wait any further. I couldn't get the card back but damn, what did I get in return!!!! (Kahin tum logo ko aisa toh nahi lagta main yeh sab jaan buchke karti hun 😁 all my stories are real AF and orchestrated by my creator, what do I do😑😊) I forgot to ask his name. But let's just call him a hero.💙 #OneHuMANNAtATime #GorgeousWanderer #Bangkok P.S: I try to have such pictures in monochrome to even out the differences, signifying we all are ONE.

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At Mariott Marquis Queen’s Park, the IIFA Press Conference venue, Bobby Deol was the first Bollywood star I bumped into, while he was coming back from his workout on the same hotel floor where PR team was addressing media. I requested him for an impromptu conversation and while he tried to dodge it, his sweetness won over.

My first IIFA Green Carpet moments were magical.

The stars descended at the IIFA Green Carpet one by one and it was a pleasure to interact with quite a few of them.

(IIFA 2018 Full Coverage)

Today when I reminisce all the moments and stay deeply grateful for everything that universe thought I am capable of, I am always in awareness of the fact that one thing remains starkly opposite to all the glam and glory Bollywood boasts of – it has never been a place for realness for the outside world.

Bollywood is created and marketed as aspirational and it will always remain like that. In real, it is nothing but another industry where professionals work like you and me. But, it is you and me who have never understood this and given it top notch dream status that it has always enjoyed.

To think of it, why not! Bollywood has, after all, been instrumental in shaping us who we are today, hasn’t it?! Can we imagine our lives without music, entertainment, larger-than-life love stories and celebration of life by Bollywood? May be not. To shun Bollywood will be like giving a piece of your heart away.

It sure is an industry that oozes reel celebration of love and life like no other profession does yet, in real, the blatant extremism it thrives on is shockingly sad. They say, “yahan koi kisi ka nahi hai…” (Here, no one is here for anyone).

And now it feels, this saying waited for actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death stamp and make it believable like never before. It isn’t every day that talented actors like him send out shock waves with their deaths and make themselves heard only in their graves.

I didn’t meet Sushant at IIFA and all this while I’ve been thinking about him because he comes across as a different guy for whom Bollywood wasn’t his world, it was just a part of his world.

After Sushant’s death in most unfortunate circumstances as we know, I am genuinely careful to not unknowingly pull down anyone’s effort by generalizing Bollywood and IIFA as materialistic and plastic. There are films we have lived, songs we have loved and found shoulder to cry on, stories that have inspired and personalities that have given purpose to so many – we must respect it.

But no one can and should not downplay the fact that, at the end of Sushants and miseries of many more like him, there’s an industry that believes in, “show must go on…” and it will make it go on. There’s no undo button to death and somewhere there are humans who care less to find one. They simply move on to latch on to the opportunity in undesired popularity of an incident as drastic as Sushant’s death and commercialize it soonest by blocking relevant movie titles and stories.

Two years on, reality has struck and it has struck very hard. I always was in understanding of Bollywood industry’s ruthlessness, not just by reading about it but knowing from insiders. Hence, even after attending two IIFAs by now, I haven’t let it get on to my head.

Coronavirus has changed the game in physicality and events like IIFA won’t happen unless there’s a full-proof cure and people are comfortable attending large gatherings. While, Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has changed the game mentally and I just know that the brilliant man’s absence will always be so strikingly deafening that Bollywood and its folks are never going to appear same again.

Things are changing and they are changing fast. Everything changes eventually but emotions stay. Whenever I, now, see my pictures and videos from IIFA, I leniently feel proud of myself yet somewhere I find Sushant in my thoughts. I am guessing and hoping that these feelings hold true for some of the celebrities out there who are truly mourning him like he was not an “outsider” ever.

And I keep thinking, how does one keep the show running with mixed emotions and flurry of thoughts that are beyond the glamour world and what is neatly gift wrapped in a glossy, attractive covering of marketing, hidden truths and lies?!

There’s no success sauce or story that you can gulp down. There’s no fixed path that you can follow. While you are here, you have to follow your instinct, believe, keep going and exploring. You just have to keep believing that universe is backing you with people with good hearts and intents. That, there are people out there who won’t cheat and commercialize you. They will support you for who you are. That’s all for anyone to hold on to. There’s nothing more, nothing less.

At the end of it all, you have to tell yourself that you are among the chosen few to come this far, an “outsider” yet finding inroads, someone who made it happen all on your own, just like a tiny fraction of Sushant Singh Rajput’s achievements. You pray to God to keep you sane and grounded so that you don’t get lost in the limelight of events like IIFA – no matter how massive the scale be and how larger-than-life it is perceived by the world, yet celebrate it as one of the many humble achievements of your own, in your own eyes. No one else’ but in your own eyes.

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My First IIFA Wasn’t An Easy Emotion, Two Years On, It Definitely Isn’t