Gulf News journalist Manjusha Radhakrishnan covering the IIFA Awards in 2019
Gulf News journalist Manjusha Radhakrishnan covering the IIFA Awards in 2019 Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan/Gulf News

I have always maintained that there’s something amazing and alluring about Bollywood films that proudly show grown men and women running around trees. The flashy musicals filled with gorgeous people take nearly three hours to reach a fitting climax, but the sumptuous visual feast is usually worth every second.

Similarly, Bollywood award ceremonies — albeit long and stretched out — is a celebration of those dazzling movies and those maverick matinee idols who can dance like a dream.

This weekend, it will be my 10th year where I will be covering the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards from the word go as a journalist for Gulf News. Since this is a travelling awards show, it has taken me as far as Madrid, Macau, Toronto and Tampa. Their destinations change every year, but the DNA of celebrating all things Bollywood remained a constant. For instance in Toronto, expatriate Indians who were rarely able to see Bollywood stars in the flesh were chuffed that a galaxy of celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh were on their turf. They were Bollywood-starved and were gloriously satiated in 2011.

This three-day affair often described as India’s Oscars is a heady concoction of spruced up stars in fancy gowns and tuxedos strutting down green carpets — a nod to saving the environment — and celebrating their brand of bombastic cinema.

Manjusha IIFA 1-1654154464109
Manjusha Radhakrishnan with Freida Pinto. Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan/Gulf News

Over the years, you may never remember who won Best Picture or took home the Best Actor award that year, but you will always remember the camaraderie that you witnessed on and offstage. To watch Priyanka Chopra Jonas lure Hollywood legend John Travolta onto the stage to dance together for the peppy song ‘Tu Na Maari Entry Yaar’ from her film ‘Gunday’ was a hoot. This was during the 2011 IIFA Awards at Toronto and over the years that sense of kinship on display has only multiplied.

Bollywood stars often come under scrutiny for their petty rivalries and in-fighting. But during this awards weekend every year, the glamorous brigade seems to have struck a truce. You see them hugging and high-fiving as flash bulbs from the paparazzi pen go crazy. The cynic in us might argue that these are actors who are good at faking emotions, but you also learn to give them the benefit of doubt. To see Ranveer Singh photobomb his now-wife Deepika Padukone on the green carpet and declare that she’s the best thing in Indian cinema today makes you smile. I also remember how warm and gentlemanly Ranbir Kapoor was when he met a fan in Singapore. There were no cameras watching him, but he displayed immense humility in front of that adoring girl. This is also a weekend where you see stars letting their guard down and just having fun fraternising with their peers.

This year, the IIFA is doubly symbolic. Due to the pandemic, IIFAs weren’t held in person last year and therefore it’s been two years since we have seen all stars gather under one roof to celebrate Indian cinema. And something tells me that the actors and the journalists — who had suffered awards fatigue in the past — might be all charged up this year. After a long lull, stars like Abhishek Bachchan — whose film ‘Ludo’ is heavily nominated this year — and Shahid Kapoor will break a leg on stage.

As I gear up to cover my 10th IIFA this weekend, I am also keenly aware that Bollywood cinema — for all its faults — is one gigantic celebration of films that take pride in being loud and dramatic. So bring on the drama!