More than half a billion viewers tuned in last night to see the cream of Bollywood appear for the Indian film industry’s version of the Oscars in a glitzy ceremony in Thailand.
Some of Bollywood’s biggest names – virtually unknown in the west but huge stars across Asia – arrived in Bangkok last week to promote the industry, which has had a lean year thanks to the arrival of the country’s wildly popular domestic cricket league, which has kept audiences out of cinemas for the past six weeks.
Launched by the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) eight years ago, the event has become a pit stop for global cinema buffs. The inaugural ceremony was held in London and in past years has been to Amsterdam, South Africa and, in recognition of the British diaspora’s contribution, Yorkshire.
Although Thailand has not traditionally provided big Bollywood audiences, police struggled to control the crowds who turned up to see the stars attend the Sarkar Raj preview on Friday.
The dark political thriller, based on the real-life controversy around an Enron power plant built in India a decade ago, is the kind of new-wave cinema Bollywood wants to show the world – an Indian movie with an international feel that goes beyond the traditional song-and-dance format.
The movie, which stars Indian megastar Amitabh Bachchan, is the follow-up to the 2005 film Sarkar, which borrows heavily from American classic The Godfather. Another mold-breaking movie is likely to be the slick sci-fi flick Love Story 2050 and the much-hyped thriller Mission Istanbul.
The Indian film industry, which churns out hundreds of movies a year, has revenues of more than £1bn, a fraction of what Hollywood earns. However, sales are growing.
Bachchan told reporters that the unique culture of Bollywood has protected it from being subsumed by the Hollywood movie machine. “The way Hollywood was able to destroy most of the other cinemas in the west – whether it was Italian, French or German, or British even – it will have a tougher time in India because there is a cultural difference.”
Keen to associate themselves with global causes, the big names of Bollywood, including Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, waltzed down a green carpet, instead of red, to spread awareness about global warming.
On Friday, the head of the UN’s Nobel-prizewinning climate panel took centre stage to call for greater efforts to stop climate change. Rajendra Pachauri accepted a special global leadership award and praised the event’s host, Bachchan, for advocating action against climate change during the weekend gala.
“Change in the climate system of the world is unequivocal,” he said after accepting the award. “We rapidly have to bring about the stabilization of Earth’s climate.” He also delivered a presentation highlighting the science behind his panel’s forecast for the world.