TAMPA — The meeting room in the Tampa Convention Center buzzed with excitement. Phones were held high in the air, poised to catch a photo of the keynote speaker.
Then Anil Kapoor, wearing pitch-black sunglasses and surrounded by an intense-looking entourage, strode through the door. Some of the women couldn't help themselves. They forgot their professional demeanor and squealed with delight.
Even Santiago Corrada, president of Visit Tampa Bay, gushed in his introduction of the Indian icon.
“He's the best-known Indian actor in America!” Corrada said, beaming. “And Tampa's favorite son and ambassador has come here many times.”
Applause broke out. Kapoor quickly had the group wrapped around his little finger.
The actor-producer, 57, whose career has spanned nearly four decades, is one of India's most recognizable film stars. American audiences know him from the 2008 Academy Award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” and his performance in the eighth season of the hit Fox television series “24.”
On Friday, he was just a regular guy, disarming the delegates and press at the Media and Entertainment Summit sponsored by the International Indian Film Academy.
“I can see a good future,” he said of this area's potential as a prime site for films. “First and foremost, Tampa Bay is beautiful and the people are nice.”
He said he began his morning with an hour-long jog along Bayshore Boulevard, smiling at fellow runners and bikers on the city's most famous sidewalk.
One way to draw more moviemakers, Kapoor said: Offer incentives, like tax breaks and accommodations.
“It's not as hunky-dory as it looks to make films,” he said. “You need financial support. Things are tough. People will compromise if you can give incentives.”
With his long tenure in the business, Kapoor can speak with authority on the evolving business of Bollywood. In the early years, “most of the time, we had no scripts” at the start of production, he said.
“There was no professionalism. It was just a casual attitude,” he recalled.
But the gap is finally closing between India's cinema and Hollywood, thanks to technology and social media. And there's that little matter of economics.
“Basically, you got to make a profit. Even if the film fails, you should not lose money. Now the stakes are high.”
He didn't hold back on his enthusiasm for Americans.
“They're explorers, they're adventurers, and they spend a lot of money and time inventing new technologies,” he said. “And all the marketing that Hollywood does? No one does it better.”
For all the strides his homeland has made in cinema, he says there's one area where it needs substantial improvement.
“Our studios are appalling,” Kapoor said, noting that safety issues on the set are a big concern in India. He's decided not to wait for change; he's building his own state-of-the-art production studio.
Kapoor said he's grateful for the international exposure he's gotten — and continues to get — from “Slumdog Millionaire.”
“What is shocking, and still makes me very happy, is that the film still resonates,” he said. “Somebody touched a core with that story.”
Still, Kapoor admitted when he got a personal call from director Danny Boyle to read the script, he didn't even know who he was.
“Then I find out he's huge and respected and very talented,” he said sheepishly. At the urging of his son, Kapoor decided to take the role. That decision proved to be one of the best he has ever made in his professional life.
“When we shot the film, I knew it was going to be something special,” he said. “The rest is history.”
When the session opened for questions from the audience, an eager woman waved her arm.
“What is the secret of your physique? It's on everybody's mind!” she asked.
The good-natured Kapoor went along with it.
He revealed how he keeps trim: hot yoga, no sugar (“Sugar is the new tobacco”) and mixing it up with a regular exercise routine. He also said he keeps a positive attitude.
“What is meant to be, will be,” he said. “I try to avoid stress.”
And of course, there's that famous head of hair. He credits genetics and, specifically, his grandfather, who died in his 90s, still with a “good mop.”
“Everybody was celebrating his life,” Kapoor said, laughing. “And I was celebrating his hair.”