The South Indian film industry successfully ensured that the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) held in Colombo between June 3 and 5 was flat, with most of the big stars giving it a miss.
The event has been marred by controversy and protests since the organisers announced the host country, which has been accused of killing civilians and engaging in an ongoing genocide.
The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), Tamil Nadu Theatre-Owners Association and Tamil Nadu Producers’ Council are some of the associations who raised the outcry against holding IIFA in Colombo.
They requested that the event be postponed and the venue changed, and threatened to boycott the movies of the stars that do attend IIFA. While the event was not cancelled, many Bollywood stars and personalities heeded the call and avoided Colombo.
A statement issued by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce had said that southern stars and filmmakers would boycott all Bollywood stars who attend the IIFA in Colombo.
They have been campaigning against holding the event on the island due to the killing of civilian Tamils and the commission of war crimes by the government during the conflict between Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers.
The film industry in the state of Tamil Nadu stayed away from the event with superstars Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth, actors Vijay, Ajit and Surya and director Mani Ratnam also giving it a miss.
Many of the Tamil Nadu actors had genuine work compulsions, but some reports suggested that a few of the actors feared they would lose out on popularity in film-crazy Tamil Nadu by attending the event.
However, many of the actors took a principled stance against the awards being held in Colombo, with Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth openly calling for the boycott of the event.
At the forefront of the protests against the hosting of IIFA in Colombo were the recently-found groups Naam Tamilar (which staged a demonstration in front of Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow and Salman Khan’s house) and Iyakkam (meaning ‘movement’), and the Vaiko-led party MDMK. The main Tamil Nadu parties, DMK and ADMK, did not express their stand on the issue.
Iyakkam staged a demonstration in front of Kamal Hassan’s house, asking him to resign as chairman of Ficci’s Media & Entertainment Business Conclave. This, despite the actor saying he had no intention of going to Sri Lanka.
“The event was earlier scheduled to be held in Seoul in South Korea. We do not know why it was shifted to Sri Lanka. But we are sure the event would not have been shifted without Ficci or Kamal Hassan knowing it,” Iyakkam’s Thirumurugan Gandhi told DNA.
“We strongly object to Ficci describing Sri Lanka as New Sri Lanka, when international human rights forums have accused the Lankan government of war crimes.”
Many of Bollywood’s famous names chose to stay away from the Colombo event. While they often cited work commitments, there was little doubt that the issues raised by the southern Indian film fraternity had been heeded.
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan stayed away from the event, even though he is the brand ambassador for the IIFA. The 67-year-old megastar had skipped the IIFA weekend amidst protests from the Tamils in India and the southern film industry.
The Big B, who had visited Colombo in April to announce the IIFA, chose to shoot a promotional advertisement for Gujarat tourism instead of attending the function. Responding to a fan’s query on his Twitter, Amitabh Bachchan said: “I will not be attending IIFA.”
The Bachchan family had declared their absence from the awards soon after the controversy over the venue began. Actors Abishek Bachchan and his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan cited work commitments and gave their excuses. “I didn’t skip the IIFA awards. I have been shooting in Istanbul for one of my films called ‘Game’ so unfortunately I couldn’t attend it,” Abhishek said in a message to his fans.
Similarly actor Shah Rukh Khan, who was supposed to be the star attraction at the IIFA awards, gave the event a miss. “I don’t think I will be able to come for IIFA…too much work here, will miss Colombo,” he said in a Tweet announcing his decision. Apart from upping the function’s star power, he was also supposed to captain the Bollywood team in a friendly cricket match against the Sri Lankan team.
Other film personalities who did not attend included Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Priyanka Chopra, Karan Johar and John Abraham.
However, some Bollywood stars did attend the event, and FEFSI is calling for a boycott of their future films. Salman Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Anil Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutta, Ritesh Deshmukh, Boman Irani and Sanjay Dutt were among the Hindi actors who made it to Colombo.
Only Salman Khan commented on the protests surrounding the hosting of the event in Sri Lanka. "We are here to do something good, something that will help people. Why should anyone talk about negative things?" he was quoted by Times as saying.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ecstatic about hosting the awards ceremony in his country, reported the Tonight entertainment site, but even he stayed away from the final awards night, as did many Sinhala film personalities.
"Thank you IIFA for choosing my country as the venue for this extravagant event. It will help us in bridging the gap between the two nations in a simple manner," Rajapaksa was quoted as saying.
But the Sri Lankan President’s absence from the event on Saturday June 5 was noted. President Rajapaksa was scheduled to attend the award show as the chief guest.
While a section of the local media maintained that Rajapaksa did not attend the event as the majority of the Bollywood stars did not make an appearance at a brunch hosted by him on the Saturday morning, the President's Secretariat insisted that he was never scheduled to attend the event.
“Certain media had reported that President Mahinda Rajapaksa kept away from International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards' night along with almost all of Sri Lanka's cinema personalities," a statement from the Secretariat said, adding that the "news is without any basis of truth as the President was not scheduled to be present at this event".
"There is also an attempt to seek credibility for this incorrect news item by stating that: 'No formal reason was given for the President's non-appearance despite his security detail being present at the venue last night'."
"The security detail present at the venue was that provided for the First Lady Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa," the release added.
Sri Lanka Prime Minister D M Jayaratne, President's wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa had attended the glittering function on Saturday night.
Separately, many of the island’s local film personalities also avoided the final night. They were “miffed with organizers” over the “step-motherly” treatment they received reported The Hindu.
“A number of representatives of the local media were not issued passes by the organisers to cover the event and the well-known film personalities of Sri Lankan cinema were asked to collect their entry passes only at the last minute,” the paper reported.
Several local artistes complained they were “hurt” and “angry” at the way the organisers treated members of the Sri Lankan Film and Art industry giving top priority to the Indian artistes, reported the Sunday Times.
“Sri Lanka's cinema queen Malini Fonseka, ranked one of Asia's 25 best actors ever in a CNN survey, a position none of the Indian Bollywood stars present in Colombo could boast of, said she was not attending the event for health reasons,” the paper reported.
“The popular actress, now a Member of Parliament, however, was hale and hearty earlier in the day to attend the tea party hosted by the President for the visiting Indian stars at ‘Temple Trees,” the weekly said.
It quoted the local actor and former MP Ravindra Randeniya as saying that invitations to local media personalities were sent to the local artistes in an “insulting manner.”
The event itself was deemed a financial disaster for the government, with estimates of the cost to the government ranging from Sri Lankan Rs. 500 million to 850 million.
The government had gone out of its way to make IIFA-2010 a big success in the hope that it would serve as a good platform to showcase post-conflict Sri Lanka as the ideal destination for tourism and investment, but at an extravagant cost.
Sri Lanka spent a total of Rs 1.1 billion Sri Lanka rupees to host the awards reported The Sunday Times, of which over Rs 850 million has been provided by the Treasury while the balance came from sponsors.
The Sri Lankan government had spent over Sri Lankan Rs. 500 million on the event and made available most of the facilities to the organisers at no or minimal charge, reported The Hindu.
Deputy Economic Development Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told a press conference that the government spent Rs 850 million of which Rs 400 million was approved by the Treasury as an expense. He added that another Rs 400 million was spent on renovating the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium including fixing a new air conditioning system and cushioning around two thousand seats in the auditorium.
“But he didn’t reveal that this part of the expense came as a loan from a state bank,” noted The Sunday Times.
Additionally the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) spent Rs. 75 million to prepare the city through repairing and renovating roads and roundabouts, a senior CMC official. The Ceylon Electricity Board and the Defence Ministry bore the cost of providing power to the Stadium and handling security arrangement for celebrities.
Meanwhile, the actress Asin is in potential trouble, after the shooting for her next Hindi movie ‘Ready’ was shifted from Maritius to Sri Lanka.
Her co-star Salman Khan was allegedly “so impressed by the scenic beauty of the country” that he requested the producers to change the shoot location from Mauritius to Sri Lanka, according to Galatta.com.
As a result, the south Indian film industry has allegedly decided to launch a non-cooperation motion against the movie.
Asin’s next Tamil movie, ‘Kaavalkaran’ opposite Vijay is due out in the Tamil cinemas soon, and the reaction of FEFSI is awaited.
Separately, the screening of Mani Ratnam's ‘Raavana’ resumed in Batticaloa despite threats by an unidentified group demanding the boycott of the bilingual film.
A cinema hall planning to screen the movie was torched by the group, which is protesting Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya and director Ratnam's decision to stay away from the IIFA awards held in Colombo after South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce called for a boycott of the event.
The group had sent hand bills to cinema owners, saying that the boycott of the IIFA event by Indian artistes had brought disrepute to Sri Lanka and therefore retaliation was just and appropriate.
"The group, which threatened the cinema owners in Batticaloa, has been arrested after we intervened in the matter," a Sri Lankan Film Corporation official said as he announced that the movie would be screened.