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Stars shine as IIFA hits Bangkok

Scores of movie stars are to light up Bangkok this weekend as superstar Amitabh Bachchan presides over the IIFA awards, which kicks off today with the premiere of Sarkar Raj.
AFP | By Claire Truscott, Bangkok
UPDATED ON JUN 06, 2008 05:30 PM IST

Scores of Indian stars are to light up Bangkok this weekend as film legend Amitabh Bachchan presides over "Bollywood Oscars" celebrations, which kick off on Friday with the premier of his latest movie.

The debonair veteran of Indian cinema will host the awards ceremony for the International Indian Film Academy on Sunday, which is expected to draw 600 million television viewers.

At least 500 Bollywood celebrities -- including Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif and Govinda -- have gathered for a glitzy weekend here to promote their unique brand of film-making abroad.

"The IIFA weekend is an occasion of truly epic proportions that takes the spirit of Indian cinema to every corner of the globe and embraces cultures from every continent," Bachchan said.

"In today's world where there are so many differences and hatreds, cinema is the one entity that brings all of us together," he told reporters as the festival opened.

The spotlight falls first on Bachchan's own family, a powerhouse acting dynasty who have the lead roles in Sarkar Raj (Absolute Ruler), premiering on Friday night.

Bachchan, 65, stars with his son Abhishek and his daughter-in-law, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, in the movie loosely based on the controversy around an Enron power plant built in India's western state of Maharashtra a decade ago.

The young couple, who recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary, are both up for Best Male and Best Female awards for their performances in Guru at Sunday night's ceremony.

Launched in London eight years ago, the IIFA awards have been held across the world, including in Amsterdam and South Africa's Sun City.

Organisers have brought the event to Bangkok to expand Indian cinema's popularity in Thailand, where audiences prefer movies from the United States or the growing local film industry.

"We hope through what we are doing this weekend that this pattern will begin to change," organiser Sabbas Joseph told reporters.

Indian film has an enormous audience at home, and the industry was valued at 2.2 billion dollars last year.

But IIFA is trying to spread Bollywood's popularity around the world. After the first IIFA awards in London, Hindi cinema ticket sales grew 35 percent in Britain over the following six months, according to organisers.

The recent Hollywood-funded Bollywood film Beloved attracted huge audiences, while the traditional song-and-dance format is adapting to appeal to Western audiences, as with the sci-fi flick Love Story 2050 to be previewed this weekend.

The festival gives a heavy nod to the business side of film-making, with a Global Business Forum on Friday that seeks to build Thai-Indian relations across industries from movies to pharmaceuticals.

But most of the spotlight will fall on the array of stars in Bangkok, with dance performances by celebrities and a charity fashion show featuring high-profile Indian designers and presented by Bollywood actors.

All that leads up to the awards ceremony, which will hand out 13 honours, culminating with the Best Picture award that could go to Guru, Chak De India, Jab We Met, Om Shanti Om, Life in a Metro or Partner.

The event has an environmental theme this year, with a special award being presented to honour Nobel Peace Prize winner and climate change scientist Rajendra Pachauri on Friday.

Instead of a red carpet, celebrities will pose for the cameras on a green one.

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