It’s possibly the biggest Hindi film blockbuster to come to Sri Lanka, a hit even before it has been screened. But for the organisers of the 11th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, this year’s event – in Colombo between June 3 and 5 – is turning out to be its most controversial, even before it has been held.
The awards have been the talk of the town. Newspapers and television channels have touted it as the biggest public entertainment event in the country’s history. But what’s also being talked about are the protests by Tamil groups in India against the awards being held here.
Within days of IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan announcing Colombo as the venue, protests by Tamil activists erupted. Bachchan was petitioned not to be part of an event in a country accused of violating human rights of its own citizens, the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Over the next few weeks, protests gathered momentum as the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce called for a boycott of stars attending it.
With a influential section of the fraternity – as well Tamil diaspora – opposing the event, stars began to drop out; Abhishek, Aishwarya, Kamal Haasan, Mani Ratnam to begin with. Shahrukh tweeted he will give Colombo a miss. Even the presence of Bachchan – at whose doorstep the protests began – is uncertain.
Colombo, however, is geared up.
The Ministry of Economic Development, headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother, Basil, is coordinating. The city has been spruced up. In one instance prisoners were deployed to repair a road. The main venue, the Sugathadasa stadium has been renovated. The launch of a new train service between the international airport and Colombo was made to coincide with the event.
"At least $ 4 million has been spent on the stadium," Dileep Mudadeniya, MD of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, said.
Mudadeniya didn’t answer whether Bachchan or Shahrukh were coming.
"Shahrukh has not been to IIFA awards before. More than 100 stars are coming. Our doors are open for everybody," he said.
Mudadeniya said he hoped the number of Indian tourists would go up after the awards.
"We get about 100000 Indian tourists every year. After this, we hope Indians would come even during off-seasons."
For India the IIFA awards are another symbol of its soft power. If only diplomacy and dancing in the rain could have been part of the same song.