Colombo: Sri Lankans are huge fans of Bollywood. With the long-drawn battle with the LTTE ended, people of this emerald island are now enjoying the fantasies Bollywood sells and encouraging Indian filmmakers to shoot in the country.
"Hindi films are very huge here. My father actually learnt Hindi by just watching Hindi films. That`s how big it is here. Most people here prefer watching a Hindi film than an English film, even though English is widely spoken here," Sri Lankan actress Jacqueline Fernandez, who featured in Hindi film `Aladin`, told reporters.
Indian cinema has a large following in the country with Hindi films shown in theatres throughout the year. There is at least one shown on local television almost every day.
Amanthi Gunawardena, a student, said: "Bollywood is very famous here. Many Hindi films release here in theatres and we even get them on local cable TV with Singhalese sub-titles."
Posters of Bollywood actresses Madhuri and Aishwarya adorn many shops. As far as Sri Lankan`s favourite actors are concerned, locals swear by Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.
Currently Shah Rukh`s "My Name Is Khan" is running in one theatre in the city.
"We love Shah Rukh Khan, I have seen many of his films like `Kal Ho Naa Ho`... He is too good. I am even fond of Amitabh Bachchan," said Asanka, a shopkeeper.
Shobna Perera, a PR person, said: "I know of some younger stars, but my favourite is Amitabh Bachchan. He is a great inspiration. I wish I could meet him some day."
After the end of the civil war last year, the Sri Lankan government is aggressively trying to promote the country as an ideal place to shoot Hindi films.
"Hindi films are very popular here and Sri Lanka can become a good place to shoot. More Bollywood stars should come and shoot here," said George Michael, secretary of the tourism minister.
The last Hindi film shot in the country was Ram Gopal Varma`s "Agyaat", which was filmed extensively in the Sigiriya Jungles of Sri Lanka in 2008. In 2004, Deepa Mehta came here to shoot her critically acclaimed "Water". She filmed the John Abraham-Lisa Ray- starrer just outside of Colombo.
Right now the Sri Lankan capital is gearing up to host the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) event June 3-5. In a country where there are fan clubs of Bollywood, the announcement of IIFA coming here has excited all.
"We need to develop greater association between Sri Lankan cinema and Indian cinema," IIFA brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan said here when the announcement was made at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel last week.
"We share a lot of things in common. We have a long history of togetherness and friendship, of sharing culture and beliefs, and I think that artistically, too, we need to bring this together so that together we can form an absolutely strong force, which represents this part of the world in the forum of world cinema," he added.