Bollywood film awards: Kashmiri spy thriller Raazi wins best picture

Rebecca Ratcliffe in Delhi
Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Bollywood’s equivalent of the Oscars, the International Indian Film Academy awards (IIFA), have been held in India for the first time with a glitzy event in Mumbai.

On a night of extravagant fashion that included performances from Bollywood icons, Raazi, a thriller about a Kashmiri spy, picked up awards for best picture and best actress for Alia Bhatt.

Ranveer Singh won best actor for his role in Padmaavat, a historical action film that sparked fierce protests among fringe Hindu groups when it began filming.

The controversy surrounding Padmaavat was not mentioned at the ceremony on Wednesday. The film, about a mythological Indian queen, provoked anger among Hindu hardliners, who claimed it misrepresented its central figure, Queen Padmavati.

Alia Bhatt, the best actress winner, poses at the awards. Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

Extremists vandalised the set, attacked the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and threatened to mutilate the lead actor, Deepika Padukone. The film’s release was delayed but went ahead in 2018 under heavy security after India’s censors suggested a name change.

“It’s a miracle and a blessing I made it as an actor. To do what I love to do for a living is a gift,” said Singh, who praised Padukone, his wife and co-star.

The subject matter of Raazi, which tells the story of a Kashmiri spy who is married by her father to a Pakistani official, has also proved sensitive. In August, India announced it would revoke Kashmir’s special status, a move that has faced major resistance and infuriated Pakistan.

Bollywood films have been banned from Pakistani cinemas since February, when a suicide bomb attack on Indian soldiers brought the two countries to the brink of war. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, reiterated the ban on cultural exchanges in August. Indian adverts, soap operas and films are also banned from local TV in Pakistan.

The IIFA awards, which have previously been held in London, Toronto, Singapore and Bangkok, followed a bumper year for Bollywood. Nearly 1,800 titles were released last year, making the Indian film industry the biggest in the world in terms of the number of films made.

Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sara Ali Khan and Madhuri Dixit were among those who performed at the ceremony.

The Bollywood industry grew by 12.2% in 2018, including not only Hindi-language movies but also titles in regional languages such as Tamil and Telugu, according to a report released in March by Ernst & Young and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

While Bollywood is hugely popular among the south Asian diaspora in North America, Britain and the Gulf region, it has also developed new audiences in China, which was the largest international market for Indian content in 2018. Last year, 10 Indian films were released in China.

The black comedy Andhadhun, for which Sriram Raghavan won best director, grossed almost $50m (£40m) in China. The film also won best screenplay and best story at the awards.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report