The charismatic Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan will be part of an awards show in Dubai this month showcasing Indian films from the state of Maharashtra in its regional language, Marathi.
Bachchan, known popularly as "Big B", is to be a guest of honour at the Marathi International Film and Theatre Awards (Mifta) on December 17 in Dubai Media City.
Holding the awards in Dubai is seen as signifying the growing importance of Indian cinema produced outside of Bollywood. Many films are already shot partially in Dubai, or premiere there.
Manoj Patil, the Middle East representative for Mifta, said Dubai was chosen as the first city to showcase Marathi cinema abroad because of its historical ties with Mumbai.
"The Maharashtrian community is strong here," he said. "This is an event not only for the people from Maharashtra, but also for those who speak Marathi."
The show will honour films including Vihir (The Well), which was produced by Bachchan’s company, Amitabh Bachchan Corp.
Writing in his blog, bigb.bigadda.com, on November 30, Bachchan mentioned his upcoming trip to Dubai to promote the film, along with Mahesh Manjrekar, the co-producer of Vihir.
He wrote: “Mahesh Manjrekar, that consummate artist and director … he is also forming a group called Mifta, a group of people that shall promote and encourage Marathi cinema overseas. But for the moment, they inform me that they have a tie-up with Dubai for a programme and I have given my consent to it. Apart from honouring our presence there, they also wish to honour our film, Vihir, which is in competition.”
More than 150 celebrities from the world of Marathi film and theatre have been invited, including Nana Patekar, a Bollywood actor who also appears in Marathi productions.
“For me, Mifta in Dubai is a big honour,” Mr Patil said. “To bring such a huge event with so many celebrities and all the Marathi societies in the Middle East under one umbrella, such a thing has never happened before for the Marathi community.”
Although Maharashtra has a vibrant arts scene that includes theatre, Bollywood films overshadow productions in any language other than Hindi. Bollywood’s epicentre is in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.
Manjrekar, who helped produce Vihir, spoke at a news conference in Dubai on Saturday. “We want to give Marathi cinema and theatre a platform and make audiences aware,” he said.
“We hope one day Marathi films are as popular as Bollywood.”
Organisers expect up to 3,000 people to attend the awards show.
Candidate films and theatre productions were selected from 2008 onwards.
They will be shown to a three-member jury, while Indian expatriates from Maharashtra can vote for their favourites online at www.mifta.in.