‘Bollywood Oscars’ begin in US with star power

Indian academy awards attract star power, including John Travolta

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 11:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 8:56am

The Indian film industry's top awards show sailed into the US with a pirate-themed musical number and celebrities ranging from Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor to John Travolta.

Before a crowd of 20,000 spectators, the International Indian Film Academy Awards (Iifa), which is informally known as the "Bollywood Oscars", were held in the United States for the first time on Saturday.

Co-hosts Shahid Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar demanded the key to host city Tampa, Florida, from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was sitting in the front row at the city's American football stadium.

Before the show started, Travolta, Kevin Spacey and dozens of Indian film stars, including Deepika Padukone, walked past hordes of international media. Iifa uses a green carpet.

During a packed news conference, Travolta said he was considering a role in a Bollywood movie. "I cannot deny music and dance in my life," the Oscar winner said. "It is part of my soul. This is part of most of Bollywood films, and I agree with it."

It was Travolta who made the crowd come to life during the ceremony. Indian star Priyanka Chopra pulled him onstage and Travolta did some signature moves from his 1994 blockbuster film Pulp Fiction.

Later, actor Hrithik Roshan presented Travolta with an award for Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema, declaring the two-time Golden Globe winner "the coolest of them all".

Spacey also wowed the crowd. Padukone and the co-hosts persuaded Spacey to don a lungi - a sarong - and dance to a wildly popular song called the Lungi Dance, which was written for the movie Chennai Express.

Like a Bollywood movie, the awards show was long, colourful and filled with spectacular song-and-dance numbers. The show started about an hour-and-a-half late, and ended at about 3am.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a film about the life of Indian track-and-field Olympian Milkha Singh, was the big winner of the night. The 84-year-old Singh was in the audience.

The movie won the best story award, and for best director and best picture. Akhtar, the awards co-host, won best male lead actor for his role in the film. It also won nine technical awards during a separate ceremony held in Tampa on Friday.

Padukone won best female lead actor for her role in Chennai Express. The romantic musical sequel Aashiqui 2 swept all four prizes for music.

The awards cap off four days of well-attended events. Several Bollywood actors made appeals for women's rights in the wake of a series of horrific rapes in India.

The decision to stage the awards in Tampa is credited in part to the city's 23,000 strong Indian-American community.

Additional reporting by Reuters