- By Sylvie SteinSylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
The Bollywood royalty who show up to Colombo, Sri Lanka for the 11th annual Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards on June 3 should expect more than just shiny hardware — they should brace themselves for boycotts from their showbiz colleagues, too.
In order to promote Indian cinema throughout the world, the IIFA selects a different country to host the old awards ceremony each year. Past venues included Singapore, South Africa, and England. The selection of Sri Lanka as this year’s venue was deliberately intended to give the South Asian nation a ‘coming out’ opportunity after twenty-five years of violent civil war. And ‘come out’ Sri Lanka will, as it gears up for its moment in the spotlight with reconstruction, remodeling, and landscaping to boot.
But the decision to hold the awards in Colombo is also deeply controversial. U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay recently called for investigations into war crimes that may have transpired in the recent decades, and allegations of continued discrimination against ethnic Tamils abound; meanwhile, Sri Lankan officials reportedly began the creation of an internal Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission earlier this month, dismissing any international interference as a hindrance to their own pursuit of justice.
The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce used the award show to make a resounding political statement: "Boycott IIFA Awards in Colombo or face the music down south," seemingly warning that any attending actors would face a backlash in heavily Tamil Southern India.
The chamber has followed through on the threat, refusing to screen films of stars who attend the awards and advocating for a venue change, even with the awards only days away. Furthermore, the Indian public reinforces their message: several famous Bollywood stars known to be likely attending the awards have woken up to angry moviegoers — including Tamil groups in India- – picketing outside their homes.
The debacle raises the question of how much political clout major players in the entertainment industry hold on the international stage. Could a successfully boycotted major event in Sri Lanka open the floodgates for international criticism and precipitate a U.N.-sponsored war crimes tribunal? Of (almost) equal concern: will the diplomatic drama overshadow even the theatrics of Bollywood at this year’s IIFA awards?