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Her parents were keen to give her a grounded, normal upbringing and for Sara Ali Khan -- the daughter of popular Bollywood actors Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan -- that meant that she had to stay away from star-studded award ceremonies during her impressionable teens.

“There was no point of me being there, they said… They made it clear that they didn’t want any kind of media, awards glare or limelight on us. They both tried to inculcate a balanced childhood in me and my brother,” said Sara Ali Khan in an interview over the phone.

Back then, Khan – whose grandmother is the legendary Indian actress Sharmila Tagore -- hadn’t earned her place yet in an awards night, they reminded her. She was allowed to tag along with her parents until she was 11 and then they discouraged her strictly when she reached her teens.

“I remember how badly I wanted to be a part of Iifa that happened in New Jersey with my father and I remember walking on the streets of New York thinking that hopefully if God willing I would be able to attend Iifas on my own merit one day. Not only am I attending, I am performing this year too,” said Khan. She didn’t want to feel like an “unwanted appendage” back then. The year was 2016 and a lot has changed in the last three years for Khan, who graduated from the prestigious Columbia University.

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Sara Ali Khan Image Credit: IANS

In the upcoming 20th edition of the International Indian Film Academy Awards (Iifa) 2019 on September 18 in Mumbai, Khan will be honoured with the Best Debutante trophy.

Khan, 24, made a spectacular splash in Bollywood with her star-crossed debut romance ‘Kedarnath’ and topped it off with a massively successful blockbuster ‘Simmba’ starring Ranveer Singh as a cheeky cop. Khan played his girlfriend.

“I am so excited to be a part of Iifa because I aspired to be there rightfully someday instead of going to it feeling like you don’t really belong … I feel honoured and thrilled to be a part of Iifa celebrations this year. It’s my first and I can’t wait,” said Khan.

Iifa 2019, the annual travelling International Indian Film Academy Awards, is a two-day celebration of all things Bollywood and culminates in a glittering awards ceremony. This year, Iifa 2019 will kick-start in Mumbai on September 16 with Iifa Rocks where technical awards of Bollywood films released in 2018 will be celebrated. Awards pertaining to music and fashion will also be handed out.

Two days later, on September 18, the main awards night will take place where the popular categories including Best Film and Best Actor/Actress trophies will be given away.

To make it in Bollywood isn’t easy claims Khan.

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Sara Ali Khan with Ranveer Singh in 'Simmba'. Image Credit: Supplied

“Everybody has to prove themselves in this industry. How you reach here changes as per an individual. But we all have to prove ourselves constantly to stay here. It’s an everyday struggle.”

When asked if Bollywood ceremonies in general are losing its sheen and its veracity is being universally questioned, Khan was studiously diplomatic and politically correct in her measured response. Bollywood award ceremonies are notorious for handing out trophies to actors who deign to attend the dazzling-but-bloated award presentation ceremonies.

“I don’t think so much about most things ranging from Instagram posts to awards. I think of Bollywood as a huge, giant celebration. Award nights are a great occasion where Bollywood talents come together and the best ones win. I aim to have fun and I don’t take anything too seriously.”

Her dance performance on stage is also going to be laced with drama and fun, she promises.

“I may not be the most terrific dancer, but I love to dance. Dancing symbolises having fun with the beats. In my eyes, an entertainer is someone who makes you want to have some fun. While I am a trained classical Odissi dancer, Bollywood dance is all about pure enjoyment and entertainment.”

She’s taking notes from the best. Her most precious Iifa memory remains the late actress Sridevi’s dance performance at the Iifas in 2013.

“I was 13 or 14 and I can’t remember the exact year. It was five or seven years ago and Sridevi ma’am was just so amazing. I am a die-hard Sridevi fan and watching her dance to so many of her songs was so inspiring. She was simply amazing.”

IIFA 2019: WHAT TO EXPECT

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- Stars including Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Madhuri Dixit, Ayushmann Khurrana, Ali Fazal, Ranveer Singh and Radhika Apte are scheduled to attend the Iifa 2019 in Mumbai.

- Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana, who is emerging as one of Bollywood most bankable actors in 2019, continues to court awards glory. His National Award-winning thriller ‘Andhadhun’ leads Iifa nominations with 13 nods, including Best Actor (male) nomination for Khurrana. His comedy ‘Badhaai Ho’ has also bagged six nominations this year. In a separate interview with Gulf News tabloid! while promoting his new film ‘Dream Girl’, Khurrana said that awards embolden him to experiment creatively. “My National Award has given me the liberty to be brave with my choices. It has given me the courage to be wacky and radical at the same time … Awards have that power on you,” he said.

- Director Meghna Gulzar’s spy thriller ‘Raazi’ starring Alia Bhatt and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial period romance ‘Padmaavat’ has also been heavily nominated with ten nominations each.

- Iifa 2019 is not simply an awards night. It’s also about the dazzling performances by big Bollywood stars. This year, stars including Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Katrina Kaif, Ranveer Singh, Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan will set the stage on fire with their spectacular Bollywood moves. The Iifa Rocks line-up on September 16 – a dress rehearsal before the Iifa main awards night two days later, will see singers including Amit Trivedi, Neha Kakkar, Jassi Gill perform.

- Designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil will also showcase their creations during the Iifa Rocks night. Both Iifa Rocks and Iifa Awards night are ticketed events.

Don’t Miss It!

Gulf News tabloid! will be in Mumbai to document all the action, glitz, glamour and drama at Iifa 2019. Stay tuned.