Thursday, June 3, 2010

IIFA in Sri Lanka: Naivety or Hubris?

(Poor Riteish looks stressed... so much for a relaxing Sri Lankan vacation...)

I'd like to preface this entire post by saying that I am not Indian nor am I of Indian descent. I am merely an interested fan of ALL Indian film industries from Kannada language to Hindi language who likes to stay informed about current happenings in the film world.

The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards are about as international as the World Series of baseball is actually worldwide - in other words, not so much.

To give you a taste of the awards, here is a list of the IIFA Best Picture winners contrasted with the specifically Hindi-language Filmfare Awards Best Picture Winner for the same year:

2000Hum Dil De Chuke SanamHum Dil De Chuke Sanam
2001Kaho Naa... Pyaar HaiKaho Naa... Pyaar Hai
2004Kal Ho Naa HoKoi... Mil Gaya
2007Rang De BasantiRang De Basanti
2008Chak De IndiaTaare Zameen Par
2010[Filmi Girl's Guess] 3 Idiots3 Idiots

Gosh, not so different, huh?

According to the
IIFA website: "IIFA constantly endeavours to showcase to the world the wealth of talent Indian Cinema has to offer."

Leaving aside the conflagration of Hindi language film industry with
Indian film industry, IIFA essentially is a public relations exercise for Bollywood - an excuse to give interviews and have screenings in cities where there could be a new audience for films like Black and Lagaan. Looking at IIFA this way, it totally makes sense for the awards ceremonies to be held in places like London (2000), Bangkok (2008), or Toronto (2011). So, what on Earth made IIFA decide to have the 2010 awards in Colombo, Sri Lanka? On the surface, Sri Lanka seems like an okay fit for IIFA - it's close by, desperate to improve its image and therefore probably pretty cheap, and Sri Lankans like Bollywood well enough, but dig a little deeper and unresolved tensions come pouring to the surface.

This year's IIFAs have been plagued with trouble from the beginning. To understand why, let's do a little history lesson. Sri Lanka is mostly (Buddhist) Sinhalese but has a ethnic (Hindu) Tamil minority in the North and East. The British, the cause of so many problems in Central and South Asia, preferred to deal with the Tamils rather than the majority Sinhalese back in the colonial days. When Sri Lanka gained independence, the ethnic tensions flared up into civil war - with the Sinhalese wanting a united Sri Lanka and the Tamils angling for home rule. Many people have died and many people have been displaced. The war is "officially" over but the tensions still run very, very high. And, to be fair, it is certainly very difficult to forgive (let alone forget) atrocities like
this one.

Not only is that wretched history still smouldering but
human rights abuses are still very much recent business, with some in the West even calling for trade embargoes.

So, now I ask again, what on Earth made the IIFA committee think that Colombo would be a great host?

Some of the fallout from the selection has been
Amitabh resigning as IIFA brand ambassador after some protests outside his house; a slew of cancelations and no shows from people like Shahrukh Khan and A.R. Rahman; and a threat of a boycott from the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce against those actors who do attend.

Salman Khan, who has replaced Amitabh Bachchan as spokesman for the event
says this:

"I don't understand this (controversy). If there are people who are troubled...We have come to entertain them only. We have come here to give them something that is what I believe in."

Although one can't help but feel that perhaps the Tamil people would prefer to see their own Tamil stars rather than the Bollywood B and C listers who showed up in Colombo, including Dia Mirza, Bipasha Basu, Vivek Oberoi, Lara Dutta, and Riteish Deshmukh.

While I understand the position of those who must fulfill contractual obligations to perform at IIFA this year, I fully support those who have decided not to attend. I don't think it is an overreaction at all. To speak to Salman's point, entertainment is not innocuous and even the silliest films have some sort of meaning. Think of the recent Eurovision contest - nothing could be sillier than Eurovision but every year, tensions flare over old rivalries, not to mention Israel's participation. If the song competition that's greatest claim to fame is launching ABBA can cause so many problems, it's only reasonable to expect that the IIFA Awards, who claim to represent "Indian" film to the world, should have some friction, too. And it shows how little thought "India's" film industry spares for the non-Hindi speaking sections of the country.

So, was it hubris that led Bollywood to host its annual self-congratulatory celebration in Sri Lanka or just naivety?

Possibly a combination of both.

But that's just my two cents - I'd love to hear what you all think!


Ness said...

Hmmm. I feel like I don't know enough about the political situation to comment on it, since it seems like such a controversial topic that people feel so deeply about, but here are my two cents anyway.

I think whoever decided to hold the awards in Sri Lanka was either amazingly naive to think that the line "we're just here to entertain" would make everything okay; or was purposely and stubbornly turning a blind eye to the deeper problems holding a glamour event in a country that is still essentially a warzone would raise.

Did you see Vivek Oberoi's comments on Twitter about it? On the one hand, I'm like - well good, at least if you are going to go and do the glamour thing, at least you are doing some humanitarian work as well, and making an effort to raise awareness and at least DO SOMETHING rather than just entertain.

But having heard horrific stories from my friend who grew up in Sri Lanka, and eventually left the country as a refugee, I don't know if that makes it all okay. I think I still come down on the side, ultimately, that Bollywood should be leaving this alone.

Sonia said...

Great post!

I've also been trying to follow the development of the whole thing. But I find the comments from different parties quite distracting. Only until recently I can read from the press that the South film industry is only against the location of IIFA this year but not against IIFA itself. But columnists have been criticizing the dominance of the Hindi film industry and how they're neglecting the South.

I agree with you that there is an issue. But many people commenting on it are not getting the focus right.

eliza bennet said...

It is hubris, they cannot be this naive. No way.

If I were an actor I would not attend either - not because I support Tamils' cause in Sri Lanka (I don't really know anything about it, except what I have seen on cinema) or anything like that but because it doesn't feel right to insist on doing it when a lot of people are uncomfortable with it and one would not achieve good by doing it despite the critisism.

Ness said...

Totally agree with what eliza bennet said.

I think it is very telling that the people who are not attending the IIFA awards (and who are clearly boycotting) are publicly saying it's down to scheduling conflicts or whatever - like they are not attending for mundane reasons as opposed to political ones. Like I remember writing up an article on how Raavan isn't premiering at IIFA because 'the soundtrack isn't finished' - but read further and it's clearly because Mani Ratnam and others involved are uncomfortable with the situation and are boycotting.

Prathap said...

Good & true article. Being a tamilan, I'll appreciate you guys. Thanks.

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness & Eliza I don't want to be cynical but I agree with you guys, too. It's complete hubris that IIFA thought they could host an event in Sri Lanka - and therefore tacitly give approval to the Sri Lankan government - without expecting that some people would really take offense. They definitely should have left it alone and looked for somewhere else.

I hope somebody gets fired for this.

@prathap Thank you for reading! :)

Filmi Girl said...

@sonia Oops! I missed you in my comment:

But many people commenting on it are not getting the focus right.

That's why I was motivated to post something - I might revisit this after the awards themselves. The comments have ranged from Salman's "we're just here to entertain" to "boycott Salman Khan for entertaining" but I don't think there has been enough discussion on what the heck IIFA was thinking to have picked Sri Lanka... were they really that ignorant of the emotional ties of many Indians to the Tamil people there?

Shell said...

While I admit that I didn't really know what was going on over there, it is disappointing to know that the film industry that I love can be so incredibly insensitive, whether it's pride or niavity. It should be someone's business to be on top of things and understand how a decision like holding the event in Sri Lanka could impact the country as well as the actors.
I, for one, fully support anyone who decides not to be a part of it for political reasons, and seriously hope that those actors who do attend do their job to honestly portray Indian film (supporting all the Southie actors who should be attending would be a great start) and that everyone is safe.

Kiran said...

@Shell: That is not going to happen. None of the Southern actors will attend this event.
Even before this years events, many southern film people were cold towards IIFA. I remember a Mamooty interview where he said that though it is named IIFA, do not confuse Indian film industry with bollywood. Indian film industry is much bigger & offers much more variety than bollywood.

I just cannot shake the feeling that it is just arrogance. Even before the huge flare up, i recall allu sirish tweeting that all the major Tamil stars who received an invitation to IIFA were rejecting it & were saying "Oh, so now you need us when the awards are taking place in Srilanka where it is actually Tamil films, not bollywood that is huge."
I just don't understand when there is obviously such huge discomfort, why don't they just cancel it & conduct the awards in Bombay.

Filmi Girl said...

@Kiran and Shell Yeah, I agree on the arrogance thing. They all seemed so baffled that a) the Southern stars would be so reluctant to turn out and b) that Tamil people would be angry at their tacit support of the Sri Lankan government.

I can't help but think that they wouldn't have chosen to host the awards in Tel Aviv or something so why Colombo?

Ness said...

...or giving someone the benefit of the doubt (playing devils advocate a bit) MAYBE someone was just INCREDIBLY NAIVE. Bear with me on this naive and blinkered train of thought:

"Maybe now that the war in Sri Lanka is 'over' we can take IIFA there, and show everyone that IIFA ISN'T JUST ABOUT BOLLYWOOD! No, we'll show that we can include our Southern brothers and sisters by holding a huge prestigious glamourous function IN THEIR TERRITORY. See, world? We could have had it in Mumbai, or ANYWHERE, but we chose Sri Lanka! Look how INCLUSIVE the Indian film industry is!"

Bet that nameless person is feeling the heat now, if that was the case. Oops.

Christine Menefee said...

Great job of pulling info together, thanks, and I get more of a sense now what this is about. (compulsive editor self here - though the kerfluffle does seem a bit of a conflagration at this point - as in going down in flames - I think you meant to say "conflation" there, near the beginning) (and yes, it does seem rather arrogant of them to assume a Colombo venue would go smoothly - reminds me of Hollywood's attitude vis a vis the rest of the world)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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