Bollywood's Jodhaa Akbar wins at Indian film awards

MACAU (Reuters) - Indian epic film Jodhaa Akbar scooped top honours in India’s version of the Oscars at a ceremony in the Chinese gambling haven of Macau Saturday.

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Some of Indian cinema’s biggest names including Amitabh Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan graced the green carpet, as thousands of fans screamed and jostled for autographs at the annual IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) awards.

The night’s big winner in an awards ceremony replete with circus performers, fireworks and high-octane Bollywood dance routines was Jodhaa Akbar, about a 16th century Muslim emperor who marries a Hindu princess.

The film picked up awards including best picture and best director for Ashutosh Gowariker, while heart-throb Hrithik Roshan won best male actor and A.R. Rahman best music direction.

The film’s director said the central theme of religious tolerance was a vital one for contemporary Indian society.

“Yes, we do need a Hindu-Muslim alliance ... we do need a dynamic secular India in the 21st century,” said Gowariker.

India, home to the world’s most prolific movie industry, has tried to broaden its global appeal through the annual IIFA awards, held in a different city each year.

“Any audience is important to us, and China is a huge market, we love Chinese films back home and I hope they enjoy our films,” said actor Abhishek Bachchan, who won “best performance in a comic role.”

“I think it’s bringing Indian cinema to the world,” said Hemal Ghelani, 18, an Indian resident in Singapore, who flew in with her family for the event. “We’re very excited to be here.”

The awards come at a challenging time for Bollywood, the popular name for India’s huge Hindi-language film industry, with box office takings and film budgets hit by the downturn. A strike by film producers over box-office takings in multiplex cinemas also saw no major Indian films released for two months until the strike ended in early June.

India’s filmed entertainment sector, estimated at about $2.2 billion, is expected to suffer badly this year. Longer term though, consultancy KPMG forecasts average growth of more than 9 percent a year over the next five years.

Indian actor Rajesh Khanna was presented with a lifetime achievement award for his 40 years of cinematic work.

“A long journey I must say,” he said in receiving his award.

Best actress was won by Priyanka Chopra for “Fashion” while Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World won “best actress of the decade,” while “Lagaan” won best picture of the decade.

The awards show was a lively mix of singing and dancing by the likes of Abhishek Bachchan, while jugglers and acrobats from Macau’s Cirque du Soleil lent an air of mystique.

The awards ceremony is expected to eventually reach 600 million viewers worldwide, organizers said.

Reporting by James Pomfret