The inaugural edition of the Indian Film Festival and Awards of Australia, which was due to run next week in Sydney, has been canceled. Organizers blamed the threat of terrorism.
The series of screenings, events and a finale that combined awards and a Bollywood-style variety show was scheduled to run May 7-13. Indian celebrities including Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Hariharan, Dharmendra, Javed Akhtar, Jeetendra, Ileana D Cruz, Shekhar Suman and Sophie Chaudry were expected to appear.
However, on Thursday organizer Vikas Paul said that international political-military events had overshadowed IFFAA. Tensions between India and Pakistan have been running high in recent months following border incidents in disputed Kashmir. The beheading of two Indian soldiers – which Pakistan denies being responsible for – has this week fired up government and vocal sections of the Indian public. Some sporting events have been canceled, and India has summoned Pakistan’s top representative.
“We had and have been receiving a lot of threats from vested interests who are not keen to see this talent come to Australia and for this event to go ahead,” Paul said in an emailed statement. “We were to also see some artists from Indian Sub-Continent, who were to perform and attend the event, to promote harmony and peace among two countries. But fundamentalist groups here [in Australia] turned it into a political agenda.”
In an attempt to head off the problems, Paul canceled the attendance of Pakistani talent and turned the event into an Indian-only performance.
“Even after withdrawing the Pakistani actors and with heightened pressure over our event from ‘anti’ groups, we have decided not to go ahead with the event in view of the safety of not just the celebrities, my personal and family’s well-being, but also for the thousands of people who will be present to view the cultural extravaganza.”
Paul’s personal Facebook page shows the week-long events being canceled, but IFFAA still going ahead with the grand finale. It had been selling tickets for as much as $935 (A$1,299). But a spokesman for IFFAA told Variety that the May 13 show has now also been canceled.
“We have deferred IFFAA till further notice, and we wish the political situation improves [over] time, to relaunch it,” the statement read. Paul expressed himself “heartbroken” after two years of preparations.