Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the island nation's film personalities stayed away from the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards ceremony that went on till the early hours of Sunday.

While a section of the local media maintained that Mr. Rajapaksa did not attend the event as the majority of the Bollywood stars did not make an appearance at a brunch hosted by him on Saturday morning, the President's Secretariat insisted that he was never scheduled to attend the event.

In a brief statement here, the President's Secretariat said: “There is also an attempt to seek credibility for this incorrect news item by stating that: “No formal reason was given for the President's non-appearance despite his security detail being present at the venue.” The security detail present at the venue was that provided for the First Lady Madam Shiranthini Rajapaksa, it said.

Indications are that the government is miffed with the organisers over what is perceived as step-motherly treatment meted out to the local film industry and the media. A number of representatives of the local media were not issued passes by the organisers to cover the event and the well-known film personalities of Sri Lankan cinema were asked to collect their entry passes only at the last minute.

The government had gone out of its way to make IIFA-2010 a big success in the hope that it would serve as a good platform to showcase post-conflict Sri Lanka as the ideal destination for tourism and investment. According to varying estimates in the local media, the government had spent over Sri Lankan Rs. 500 million on the event and made available most of the facilities to the organisers at no or minimal charge.

The government was keen to ensure that the event was a success after a section of the film industry from South India had given a call for boycott of the function, citing the alleged excesses by the security forces in the war against the LTTE which ended in May last year.

Sections of the Opposition parties and the media pointed to the absence of the brand ambassador of IIFA, Amitabh Bachchan and some other well-known Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan and dubbed it as a flop show.

English weekly, Sunday Times in a report said that several local artistes complained they were “hurt” and “angry” at the way the organisers treated members of the Sri Lankan Film and Art industry giving top priority to the Indian artistes.

“Sri Lanka's cinema queen Malini Fonseka, ranked one of Asia's 25 best actors ever in a CNN survey, a position none of the Indian Bollywood stars present in Colombo could boast of, said she was not attending the event for health reasons. The popular actress, now a Member of Parliament, however, was hale and hearty earlier in the day to attend the tea party hosted by the President for the visiting Indian stars at ‘Temple Trees,” the weekly said.

It quoted the local actor and former MP Ravindra Randeniya as saying that invitations to local media personalities were sent to the local artistes in an “insulting manner.”

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