President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday kept away from the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards’ gala night at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium along with almost all of Sri Lanka’s cinema personalities.
President Rajapaksa was scheduled to attend the premier Indian film awards ceremony already rocked by controversy, as the chief guest.
No formal reason was given for the President’s non-appearance despite his security detail (PSD) being present at the venue last night.
It is, however, learnt that the President had indicated to the event organizers that he would not present himself at last night’s glitzy show only hours after the few Bollywood actors and actresses — who eventually turned up in Sri Lanka amidst protest by the Tamil Nadu film industry in India — did not show up at a brunch he hosted for them at “Temple Trees” last morning.
It was not clear if the visiting actors and actresses kept away due to fears of reprisals by the Tamil Nadu film industry or whether the late nights in Colombo kept them asleep. The President’s brunch was at 11 a.m. yesterday.
The Sunday Times learns first lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and
Namal Rajapaksa were present at last night’s show, but they left early.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's top flight film stars also dumped yesterday's much-hyped grand finale protesting what they called the "shoddy treatment" meted out to them in the run-up to the event.
Several local artistes complained that they were "hurt" and "angry" at the way the organizers had treated members of the Sri Lankan Film and Art industry giving top priority to the Indian artistes.The boycott took place, co-incidentally after the visiting Indian stars failed to turn up at the President's function.
Only a handful of invitees from Indian cinema arrived at different times for the official function to meet President Rajapaksa, whose Government had coughed up an estimated Rs. 450 million for the mega-event with the hope that it would prop up the country's image as a tourist destination after three decades of terrorism.
Sri Lanka’s cinema queen Malini Fonseka, ranked one of Asia's 25 best actors ever in a CNN survey, a position none of the Indian Bollywood stars present yesterday in Colombo could boast of, said she was not attending the event for "health reasons".
The popular actress, now a Member of Parliament, however, was hale and hearty earlier in the day to attend the tea party hosted by the President for the visiting Indian stars at 'Temple Trees'.
Actor and former MP Ravindra Randeniya said he was not attending last night's gala show due to "personal reasons", but added that even the invitations were sent out to the local artistes in an "insulting manner".
"We were told by the Tourist Board at the last minute to call over at the board office to collect our invitations, i.e. if we were interested in attending the event. Later, they kept pestering us by phone to confirm our attendance. The whole take-it-or-leave it issue was badly handled," he said.
Popular film actor Jackson Anthony said he was skipping the event because Malini Fonseka was given a seat in the back row. "She is a local idol. This is disgusting,” he said.
Actor turned opposition MP Ranjan Ramanayake said he would be attending the award ceremony simply to get a first hand account of how Rs. 450 million in public money was being "busted".
Calling the event a "farce", Mr. Ramanayake said only half a dozen actors and actresses have turned up for the event "and some of these stars are not even known in India".
Yesterday's IIFA ceremony was held amidst a campaign launched in India by the Tamil Nadu film lobby to boycott the event as it was being held in Sri Lanka. Indian icons like Amitabh Bachchan who are contracted by Wizcraft, the main event organiser for IIFA, failed to turn up. So did other mega-stars like Shahrukh Khan, Abishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Amir Khan, Katrina Kaif and Oscar-winning music director A.R. Rahman. Their absence turned the event into a damp squib and the most controversial IIFA ceremony in its short history.
The Indian artistes were, however, given State protocol and protection. Many of Colombo's roads were closed to enable them to travel to and from the venue where the awards night was being held.