COLOMBO A heart-warming tale of life in an Indian college swept a low-key International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards ceremony in Sri Lanka on Saturday night, with several big stars staying away and after protests from Tamil groups.
'3 Idiots', last year's blockbuster starring Aamir Khan, won in almost every category, bagging as many as 17 trophies including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.
But many seats were empty in the newly spruced up Sugathadasa Stadium in the capital Colombo as big ticket stars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan stayed away despite a prior commitment to attend.
Bachchan, who won the Best Actor trophy for his portrayal of a 13 year-old with a 67-year old's body in "Paa", is the brand ambassador for IIFA, billed as India's Oscars, and has not missed a single edition of the awards in the last 10 years.
Several nominees also gave the function a miss. In the Best Actress category, only actress Kareena Kapoor, who won the award, was present at the function.
"I want to congratulate everyone who didn't give in to protests and threats and braved it to Colombo," actor Shatrughan Sinha declared while giving away an award.
The award ceremony met with some protests by Tamil groups in India who have cultural links with Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority which has alleged government mistreatment and criticised the way it handled the closing stages of a 25-year-long war.
Some 300,000 Tamil civilians were displaced by armed conflict and subsequently detained in government camps, Amnesty International said in a report last month.
A south Indian film body had threatened to boycott any star who attended the event.
But for Bollywood-crazy Colombo, even the watered down version of the awards was good enough, with fans wildly cheering every act at the awards that included dance numbers and comedy.
Sri Lanka has spent as much as $4 million on building infrastructure for the IIFA, hoping the extensive media coverage and exposure will help re-build its post-war image among global travellers as a serene, sun-bathed Indian Ocean island.
Performances by stars Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan were the highlights of the evening, as were a series of Oscar-style spoofs that hosts Riteish Deshmukh and Boman Irani pulled off, poking fun at Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.
(Editing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Sugita Katyal)