Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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International Indian Film Academy announces nominations for 'Bollywood Oscars' in Tampa

All caught up with this year's Academy Award contenders? Good. There's another batch of "Oscar" nominees to get familiar with, this time of the Bollywood variety.

Finalists for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards — a.k.a. the "Bollywood Oscars" — were announced Thursday, serving as an invitation list for a weekend of festivities slated in Tampa, April 23-26.

Leading all films with 10 nominations is Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, based on the turbulent life of Milkha "The Flying Sikh" Singh, a world-class sprinter at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In his youth, Singh's family was massacred during the India-Pakistan partition conflict, leaving him homeless until joining the army and running in competitions.

Farhan Akhtar earned a best actor nomination for portraying Singh, while Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhotra earned supporting performance nominations as Singh's sister and coach, respectively.

Like several IIFA award nominees, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is currently available on Netflix, part of the provider's Hindi language genre. DVD versions are available for some nominees on Amazon.com.

Tied for second place overall with seven nominations each are Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (or Ram-Leela, for short), a modern — and edgy, by Bollywood standards — retelling of Romeo and Juliet, and Aashiqui 2, a gritty star-is-born love affair among pop musicians. The romantic drama Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is close behind with six nominations.

Shephali Rele, associate editor of Khaas Baat and khaasbaat.com, an Indian community publication based in Tampa, considers Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Akhtar as best picture and actor favorites, after previous success in other Bollywood showcases including the Filmfare, Zee Cine and Aspara award shows.

"It was a hugely popular movie, and a little different because it was based on a true story," said Rele, who included Bhaag Milkha Bhaag on her list of 2013's must-see Hindi movies. "The performances by all the actors in that movie were first-rate."

Rele pegged Deepika Padukone as another favorite to take home an IIFA award, after dominating the leading female performance category with three nominations for Chennai Express, Ram-Leela and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

"She had a very good year, in three major movies, and all three were major commercial successes, as well," Rele said. "The odds are in her favor to win something, right?" Splitting Padukone's support among three choices might allow Nimrat Kaur of The Lunchbox to eke out the win.

"That was a breakout performance," Rele said. "She's not a well-known actress but she got this role in a small-budget film that was phenomenal." The Lunchbox, a workplace romance directed by Nitesh Batra, is expected to open in Tampa Bay in March.

Most acting categories represented Thursday were typical for award shows, with two notable exceptions: competitions for best performances in comic and "negative," or villainous roles. There are also unique categories for best male and female "playback singer," since most Bollywood movies include musical numbers, even dramas like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

Rishi Kapoor, member of an illustrious Indian acting family — "like the Barrymores," Rele said — garnered two nominations for playing negative roles in D-Day and Aurangzeb.

IIFA prizes will be divided into separate awards programs, one for technical achievements — those finalists will be announced later — and "popular" achievements, for which 13 categories were represented Thursday. Technical award presentations are scheduled for April 25 at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, with the popular awards handed out the following evening at Raymond James Stadium.

This year marks IIFA's first trip to the United States, after 14 programs held in such locales as Macau, London and Singapore.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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