Jun 15, 2009

Mixed-marriage love story sweeps ‘Bollywood Oscars’

A tale of the love between a Muslim emperor and his Hindu wife swept the ‘Bollywood Oscars’ at the weekend, earning a clutch of awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Ashutosh Gowariker.

‘Jodhaa Akbar’ traces the rise of the Mughal emperor Akbar The Great and his love affair with his Hindu wife, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

Gowariker said some people had suggested he drop plans to make the movie, given the sensitivity of Hindu-Muslim relations in India.

‘When I started this movie I was advised by all my friends not to make this film,’ Gowariker explained at the annual International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA), being held this year in the southern Chinese territory of Macau.

But Gowariker said the film’s massive popularity had ‘reinstated my faith that we do need a Hindu-Muslim alliance.’ Jodhaa Akbar saw off ‘Ghajini,’ ‘Rock On,’ ‘A Wednesday,’ ‘Dostana,’ and ‘Race’ to take the Best Picture gong.

The movie’s lead man, Hrithik Roshan, took Best Performance in a Lead Role (Male), urging his fans among the 8,000 gathered at the Venetian Macau Resort-Hotel to ‘have the courage to live free and live the truth.’

Former Miss World Priyanka Chopra, whose effort as a model dealing with the seedy side of the business in ‘Fashion’ won her Best Performance in a Lead Role (Female), thanked the audience for sitting through the nearly seven-hour ceremony.

‘We Indians are everywhere,’ she added. ‘The film industry is like one big family and the fans really feel a part of that.’ Earlier in the evening, the powerful Bachchan clan had again threatened to steal the limelight.

Family patriarch Amitabh Bachchan was feted by the event’s hosts all night, while Rai picked up awards for Star of the Decade (female) and Outstanding Achievement by an Indian in International Cinema.

Rai’s husband Abhishek then picked up a gong for Best Performance in a Comedy Role (Male) for his turn in ‘Dostana,’ and the couple delighted the audiences with separate song and dance numbers.

Former Miss World Rai provided the night’s most poignant moment when rewarded for her work over the past decade.

‘It is never a singular effort,’ she said, before turning her attention to her father, who has recently been battling cancer.

‘My father is still here,’ she said, thanking him for his ‘sacrifice and grace.’

In contrast, Abhishek screamed for joy once on stage and — in reference to questions being raised in the tabloid press about his sexuality — yelled, ‘well, I am gay tonight!’

Organisers estimated that the awards would be watched by 500 million TV viewers worldwide, while hundreds of fans gathered outside the Cotai Arena before the event, singing the names of their favourite actors as they took to the carpet.

The extravaganza, now in its 10th year, is staged outside India every year in an effort to increase the international profile of Bollywood films. It features premieres, media sessions, trade forums, and a fashion show.

Sabbas Joseph, director of IIFA, told AFP that this year’s awards marked a ‘golden decade’ of achievement for Bollywood.

The triumph of ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ which grabbed eight awards at this year’s Oscars, had been just one of the many examples of the industry’s achievement in recent years, he said.

The event is being held in the aftermath of a damaging row between producers and multiplex cinemas over how box office receipts are split, a dispute finally settled last week after a two-month stand-off.

But even before the row, India’s 2.3-billion-dollar film industry was feeling the pinch from the global economic slowdown, reining in budgets and actors’ fees as audience numbers dwindled.— AFP

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