Friday, 4 June 2010
Back in Sri Lanka to an Indian Film Festival
Pettah, one of the most diverse areas of Colombo with Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu places of worship
I arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday and it is such a joy to be back in a very calm and serene, Colombo. Stanley was there to meet me. He has been a driver for the Red Cross since 1990 and we first met in 1999 on my first visit to Sri Lanka. All the way during the 45 minutes drive into the city we discussed cricket. New Zealand and Sri Lanka are competitive rivals and it is a bond between our two nations.
Gone are all the check points from the airport to the city, and it wasn't until we reached the outskirts of Colombo, I saw the first soldier. The civil war is over. It finished on 19 May 2009.
For those of you who are not familiar with what happened in Sri Lanka, the Sunday Times of May 24 2009, sums it up : "The terror war waged by the LTTE for more than three decades took a heavy toll on civilians. Innocent civilians, including women, children, the elderly and the clergy were hacked to death and killed in indiscriminate terrorist blasts and raids.
The number of people killed in this senseless armed struggle waged by the LTTE exceeds more than 100,000 in terms of a conservative estimate. There is no proper estimate as to how many people were wounded or mentally traumatized."
But what a joy to be back in a Sri Lanka without the threat of a terrorist blowing you up. Sri Lanka deserves this peace and it looks as if the economy, a nd the tourism industry are picking up.
2001 July 24: Attack on the Bandaranaike International Air Port. Twelve people died and 13 aircraft destroyed.
I came to Sri Lanka a number of times between 1999 and 2997 when I was head of South Asia for the IFRC, including extensive work after the serious drought of 2001 in Hambantota, the floods and landslides of 2003 and of course, the Boxing Day Tsunami 2004. I am now here to look at our future work with the Sri Lanka Red Cross, especially support for all the displaced people who are gradually being resettled.
I was on the first commercial flight into Colombo after the terrorist attack on the Colombo airport on 24 July 2001. What a devastating scene that greeted me ! Destroyed aircrafts littered the runways and aprons.(see photo above)
Last night when I arrived and walked into immigration to warm and smiling officials who ushered me through in 30 seconds, then a long walk through a beautifully designed terminal, where my bag was waiting and then through customs to be greeted by Stanley.
As we approached Colombo, lights, banners and decoration were everywhere. What was happening ?
Soon I discovered that for the first time the International Indian Film Academy will celebrate the IIFA Weekend and IIFA Awards in Sri Lanka.
Bollywood superstars started arriving in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, from last night, June 3 and will be here to at least 5 June for the 11th edition of IIFA.
As always the weekend will include the high-profile Global Business Forum, the IIFA Foundation Fashion Extravaganza, the IIFA Foundation Celebrity Cricket Match and IIFA film workshops.
While the list of films nominated for awards will be made known at a later stage, rumours are already flying, though one of IIFA's previous highlights - the movie premiere - has apparently been done away with.
The climax of the weekend, however, is the spectacular IIFA Awards, the biggest South Asian media event, considering to be one of the most-watched annual global events of the year. This year's show will be hosted by Riteish Deshmukh, Lara Dutta and Boman Irani.
Last year's celebrations were held in Macau, China, and culminated in a six-hour spectacle at the stunning Venetian Resort Hotel. The awards evening saw Jodhaa Akbaar clean up with 11 awards (Kal Ho Naa Ho holds the record with 14 in 2003) plus some hilarious moments when quite a few of the stars, including Zayed Khan and Aishwarya Rai, headed for the podium only to get lost on the massive stage and end up on the wrong side.
Speaking at the announcement last week, Bollywood icon and IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan (above) explained that the festival is held in different countries each year to introduce Indian cinema to the world and integrate communities.
"As a member of the film industry I look forward to another luminous decade as IIFA journeys forth sharing Indian cinematic movements with the world," Bachchan told a news conference in Colombo.
The capital is the commercial and business centre of Sri Lanka and the most populous city in the country. Now in its second decade, IIFA has taken its vision of building bridges across business, communities, nations and cinemas to various locales the world over, from London to Joburg, Dubai to Amsterdam, and in so doing has opened new markets for Indian cinema and its cinematic culture.
IIFA organisers have gone on record saying that after the first IIFA awards were held in London, Hindi cinema ticket sales grew by 35 percent in Britain over the ensuing six months.
India's film production houses make about 1 000 films a year, but more Bollywood movies were filmed in Bangkok than in Mumbai after the 2008 IIFA event was held in Thailand's capital.
The star-studded event, which reaches out to millions of global television viewers, is seen as an opportunity to promote the island's tourism industry and diverse landscape as a possible film location destination as Sri Lanka emerges from a 25-year civil war.
So I am here on a two week handover from Barry Armstrong, who leaves in three weeks, and I will be back at the end of July to take up a two year posting.
So tonight when I had a beer with fellow Kiwi Niall Shepherd, who works for the IFR, the rich and the famous Indian moivie stars walked.
Never a dull moment.