'3 Idiots' sweeps protest-hit Bollywood awards in Sri Lanka

Indian megastar Aamir Khan's hit movie "3 Idiots" swept the "Bollywood Oscars" at the weekend but the glitzy ceremony in Sri Lanka was marred by boycott calls and the absence of many top names.

Khan's film - a coming-of-age comedy about three engineering students - secured 16 out of 27 Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) awards, including best film.

But actor-producer-director Khan was not present at the ceremony, which Sri Lanka had hoped would highlight the island's progress and stability since the end of the civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

The influential film industry in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to many Tamil refugees, had called for a boycott, arguing that the event in Colombo endorsed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's war policy.

Rajapakse remains under pressure from the international community to allow a probe into the military offensive that finally crushed the Tiger rebels one year ago, ending decades of ethnic bloodshed.

The United Nations has said at least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of fighting, while an estimated 100,000 people died in the war between 1972 and 2009.

Bollywood patriarch and IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, who won the best actor award for his role in "Paa", was also not present at the awards ceremony on Saturday evening.

Other notable absentees included Bachchan's actor son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai - Bollywood's glamorous leading couple - and popular heart throb Shah Rukh Khan.

In 2004 Shah Rukh Khan escaped a bomb attack at a concert of his in Colombo that killed two fans.

Rajapakse was billed as chief guest, but did not attend the awards and instead sent his wife and eldest son.

The president, a keen film buff, had hosted those Indian stars who did travel to Colombo at a function at his official residence on Saturday.

His office declined to explain his absence from the awards ceremony but local media reports said he felt snubbed after the leading Indian stars stayed away.

The IIFA celebrations, which have in recent years been held outside India to boost Bollywood's global profile, were heavily sponsored by Sri Lanka's tourism authorities in an attempt to showcase the island after decades of conflict.

Despite the absentees, fans poured into the awards' venue to see stars like Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi, who all sang and danced scenes from their movies during the six-hour show.

The best actress award was shared by Kapoor for her role in "3 Idiots" and Vidya Balan for her role in "Paa".

"I came to see Kareena and Hrithik perform. They were simply fabulous," said Dinal Corera, a businessman.

"I'm a bit disappointed Amitabh Bachchan stayed away, for the first time in 11 years," said college student Isha Mandalaus. "Amitabh's presence would have raised the award ceremony's profile."

Fashion student Heshani Siriwardene said: "I am here to see Salman Khan. I'm a huge fan, so happy to see him perform live."

In the previous four years, the IIFAs were previously held in Macau, Thailand, Britain and Dubai.

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