by D.B. Nihalsingha
The much touted IIFA awards finally arrived in Colombo with (reportedly) some 2,000 Indian delegates in tow. Prior to that Colombo was agog with urgent preparations at breakneck speed and with much fanfare.
Sri Lanka went extra miles to facilitate the arrival of the stars and the delegates. Red tape was cut, airline tickets handed out, procedures relaxed, money was found. The country was to gain some $56 million worth of 'publicity' that Sri Lanka was peaceful and safe, and it was wonderful country to visit, especially for the millions of Indians who will watch when the event was televised, in addition to reaching 200 million viewers in 120 countries. The Sri Lankan background material to be shown again and again during the telecast would show off Sri Lanka in all its majesty and beauty. Good stuff indeed.
Sri Lanka needs all good press it can get abroad, given the lackadaisical job its representatives --most of whom can barely express themselves clearly -- do. This was indeed a grand opportunity and that it was sized, albeit late in the day, was an excellent decision. In addition, the publicity - that normalcy had returned to Sri Lanka -- was worth its weight in gold. Not that each one of the 200 million viewers would turn up in Colombo in a hurry. But here was the opportunity to project a soft sell of Sri Lanka via a glamorous event packed with loved and lovable people, and it was grasped.
Besides the publicity, Sri Lankans were getting some much-needed infrastructure upgrades: Roads were 'done up,' telecommunication facilities were spruced up, hotels were given a makeover and the Sugathadasa Stadium got a long-delayed uplift. These were added benefits that will outlast the event.
The stars brought along a band of Indian businessmen. President Mahinda Rajapaksa told them that after many years of war, Sri Lanka was open for business in every sense of the word and he asked them to join in. That was a message Sri Lanka needed to spread to India and beyond.
Many tantalizing events were to lead up to the dazzling Saturday night event of the awards ceremony. A fashion show, a cricket match and a film workshop for young Sri Lankan film people were all laid out and eagerly awaited.
The fantastic make-believe cinematic dreamworld of expectations created by spin wizards was dampened when the news came that all Southern and some Northern stars were not attending. The South Indian cinema boycotted the event en-bloc along with threats to shun and picket South Indian screenings of films of the stars who attended the Colombo IIFA event.
That threat was apparently enough to make some top rung Bollywood stars to suddenly become heavily immersed in "work" and "unable" to come. Amitabh Bachchan, the IIFA ambassador who spoke of Sri Lanka's "very large heart," instead turned faint-hearted and gave Colombo the skip as did his son Abishek, daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai and super star Shahrukh Khan. Perhaps, South Indian countrymen picketing the cinemas showing their films may have caused second thoughts.
Bravely waving the Bollywood flag were Salman Khan, Bipasha Basu and Hrithirk Roshan -- top rung but not all that the crowd expected or was 'promised.'
When the IIFA came to Malaysia years ago, all top Bollywood stars attended along with their South Indian colleagues. The turnout was stunning along with a massive audience of 6,000 in the Genting Arena of the Stars auditorium -- a far cry from our sports stadium frantically converted for want of a venue. The Malaysian film community participated in large numbers, attending the main ceremony, as well as the many receptions and interactions which occurred before the event.
The event in Colombo was supposed to be an avenue for the Sri Lankan film fraternity to fraternize and interact with their Indian counterparts, exchange thoughts, do business and talk shop.
There were going to be multiple beneficiaries. It was win-win all the way for everyone -- for all that is, except for the Sri Lankan film industry, who turned out to be a Cinderella, spurned by the Big Brother.
The event was rooted and stuck in Colombo, with Sri Lankan film makers playing no role at all. With a few days to go, they were hastily summoned to the Tourist Board auditorium on May 31 to be told what a stupendous film industry India had and that the IIFA was a wonderful opportunity for Sri Lankan film people to mingle and learn.
Then came the bombshell: The Sri Lankan film people had only been allocated 15 seats! (Who will be getting the seats was the best kept secret in town). The stunned Sri Lankans had to be content with 'tea and sympathy,' courtesy of the Tourist Board. It was all a far cry from the Green carpet rolled out for their visiting colleagues.
Despite much talk of mutually beneficial 'interaction,' the Sri Lankan film industry was nowhere to be seen in the planning stage, suggesting that any inclusion attempt was an afterthought -- not one of the interminable meetings to work out possible events between the Indians and Sri Lankans was held.
Was it because of a "fear" that Sri Lankan film people could not speak English worth their salt and thus be no match for the fluent English of the Bollywoodians? Or were they simply forgotten until someone woke up and called the hasty meeting on May 31?
Whichever way, the Sri Lankan film fraternity were not a pleased lot.
The workshop where the two industries were to interact was a one-way affair. All those named for the workshop were Indians -- supposedly little Sri Lanka had nothing to share with the Big Brother. And to top it all, many invitations sent out for the workshop, arrived after the date set out for the confirmation of participation!
There is so much the two countries could learn from each other. The assumption that the traffic was only one way --that India had nothing to learn triumphed over "Sri Lanka! We love you!" chants from the Bollywood fraternity -- heard dime a dozen. They rang hollow for the Sri Lankan film people.
Arguably, the Sri Lanka film has much to learn from India. But equally, India could learn a bit or two as to how Sri Lanka nurtured serious film. When India's own serious film makers were confined and consigned to step-motherly treatment of Sunday morning matinee shows, Sri Lanka's Dr. Lester Peiris's , Dharmasena Pathiraja's films were contending successfully in the cinemas alongside Indian pot boilers.
Or why a small Sri Lankan film industry keeps winning many international awards.
Or, when India's Film Finance Corporation was struggling to find a viable and an equitable film loan scheme, Sri Lanka's People’s Bank devised a unique one, where film loans were given without collateral.
Or, when India's young film makers could not get their films screened, Sri Lanka's film distribution system ensured that every film produced was screened.
How these achievements were realized would have been worthy of discussion. That is, had the Bollywoodians, lost in their own hubris, condescended to give it a thought.
(The writer is a well-known award winning Film Director)
~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~