'Akbar' cleans up at IIFA in Macau

Bollywood celebrates self at awards night overseas

MACAU -- The Indian International Film Academy wrapped its annual awards show in the small hours of Sunday with the top prize going to period epic "Jodhaa Akbar."

The IIFA Weekend, held this year at the Venetian hotel in Macau, welcomed some 20,000 guests according to organizer Sabbas Joseph. Local sources reported that tickets to the six-hour Saturday night awards show were changing hands at HK$4,000 ($516) each in neighboring Hong Kong.

"Jodhaa Akbar," actually released in February last year, fended off a challenge from more recent boxoffice giant "Ghajini" to scoop up prizes for top film, Ashutosh Gowariker as best director, Hrithik Roshan as best actor and Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman for best music. In total the epic, featuring a romance between two royals with different religious beliefs won six prizes.

As much as it was about prizes, the evening was also about reaching out to a TV audience of an estimated 600 million through a recession-defying spectacle. Joseph promised a show that would outdo last year's over-the-top production at Bangkok's Siam Niramit Stadium. He did not disappoint.

The show included a performance by Cirque du Soleil, presenters who were delivered on stage on bungees, glammed-up penny-farthing bicycles and even a bath chair for veteran actor and IIFA brand representative Amitabh Bachchan.

Many of the biggest names in Bollywood turned out to parade along the green carpet, strut their stuff at the previous night's catwalk shows or tout their upcoming movies at a series of briefings and conferences. These included Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, husband Abhishek Bachchan, Asin, Shabana Azmi, Priyanka Chopra, Rakeysh Omprakesh Mehra, Arjun Rampal, Zayed Khan and senior director Rakesk Roshan.

Reveling in the reflected glory of their recent Oscar wins, many of the cast and crew from "Slumdog Millionaire" were also in attendance. These included star Anil Kapoor, who has recently enjoyed a stint in Imagine Entertainment's hit TV series "24," Oscar-winning sound engineer Resul Pookutty and the child stars, who en route held press events in Hong Kong. Kapoor also pumped "Shortkut, the con is on," a film industry comedy that marks his second outing as producer.

Indian showbiz has plenty to teach other parts of the industry. Every part of the minute of the event is regarded as part of a value chain and is carefully monetized. Sabbas's Wizcraft team is reported to have made a clean profit of over $2.1 million from sponsorship and rights sales even before the Indian diaspora fans fly in.

The Friday night fashion show was mixed with naked commercials unconvincingly mouthed by the presenters. One film briefing was preceded by a property and gaming pitch by Las Vegas Sands touting its yet-to-be-completed resort in Singapore. Singapore and Vegas are both understood to be bidding to host upcoming editions of the "IIFA Experience."

Another film briefing was interrupted by stars autographing new mobile phones being pushed by the IIFA show's title sponsor Videocon. And the Italian tourist board's India office and the Macau commerce department bought everyone lunch.

Equally, stars including Bipasha Basu, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Raima Sen, Dino Morea and Sonam Kapoor had no problem acting as clothes horses for fashion and jewelry designers.

Working on the principal that there is no such thing as bad publicity, celebrities including Aamir Khan, Ashutosh Gowariker Akshay Kumar and Anil Kapoor allowed themselves to be gently ridiculed at the awards bash.

In an environment where TV revenues are contracting and video piracy remains rife, Indian cinema has become a masterclass in maximizing profits from non-theatrical sources.

Clearly too, getting Bollywood back to work after the damaging effects of the recession and the recent standoff between movie producers and multiplex owners, which kept screens empty of new pictures, is a serious task.
comments powered by Disqus