Director Ashutosh Gowariker's love epic "Jodhaa Akbar" swept the "Bollywood Oscars" early Sunday, taking home awards for Best Picture, Best Director and best male actor for lead man Hrithik Roshan.
The film, strongly fancied before the annual extravaganza, traces the rise of the Mughal emperor Akbar The Great, a Muslim, and his love affair with his Hindu wife, played in the film by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
"When I started this movie I was advised by all my friends not to make this film," Gowariker explained at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA), being held this year in the southern Chinese territory of Macau.
But he said the film's massive popularity had "reinstated my faith that we do need a Hindu-Muslim alliance" in India.
"Jodhaa Akbar" saw off "Ghajini," "Rock On," "A Wednesday," "Dostana," and "Race" to take the highly coveted Best Picture.
Roshan in turn urged his fans among the 8,000 gathered at the Venetian Macau-Resort Hotel to "have the courage to live free and live the truth" as he collected his gong for Best Performance in a Lead Role (Male).
Another top award on the night went to former Miss World Priyanka Chopra, whose effort as a model dealing with the seedy side of the business in "Fashion" won her Best Performance in a Lead Role (Female).
Chopra paid tribute to the fans who had flocked to Macau for the three-day IIFA event from all over the world -- and who had sat through the nearly seven-hour award ceremony.
"We Indians are everywhere," she said. "The film industry is like one big family and the fans really feel a part of that."
"Jodhaa Akbar" also collected a slew of technical awards, stealing the spotlight from the powerful Bachchan clan.
Family patriarch Amitabh Bachchan was feted by the event's hosts all night, while Rai picked up awards early in the night for Star of the Decade (female) and Outstanding Achievement by an Indian in International Cinema.
Rai's husband Abhishek then picked up a gong for Best Performance in a Comedy Role (Male) for his turn in "Dostana", and the couple delighted the audiences with separate song and dance numbers.
Former Miss World Rai provided the night's most poignant moment when rewarded for her work over the past decade.
"It is never a singular effort," she said, before turning her attention to her father, who recently has been battling cancer.
"My father is still here," she said, thanking him for his "sacrifice and grace."
Husband Abhishek screamed for joy once on stage and -- in reference to questions being raised in the tabloid press about his sexuality -- yelled: "Well, I am gay tonight!"
Organisers estimated that the awards would be watched by 500 million TV viewers worldwide, while hundreds of fans also gathered outside the CotaiArena before the event, singing the names of their favourite actors as they took to the carpet.
One of the first to greet them on the night was veteran actor Kabir Bedi, who starred as the evil Gobina in the 1983 James Bond film "Octopussy."
"This night means the internationalisation of the entire brand of Bollywood," he said. "Brand Bollywood has gone global and you can see that tonight -- it epitomises the best."
The extravaganza, now in its 10th year, is staged outside India every year in an effort to increase the international profile of Bollywood films. It features premiers, media sessions, trade forums, and a fashion show.
Sabbas Joseph, director of IIFA, told AFP that this year's awards marked a decade of achievement for Bollywood.
"What's exciting is that this is really a golden decade for Indian cinema," he said.
The triumph of "Slumdog Millionaire," which grabbed eight awards at this year's Oscars, had been just one of the many examples of the industry's achievement in recent years, he stressed.
The event is being held in the aftermath of a damaging row between producers and multiplex cinemas over how box office receipts are split, a dispute finally settled last week after a two-month stand-off.
But even before the row, India's 2.3-billion-dollar film industry was feeling the pinch from the global economic slowdown, reining in budgets and actors' fees as audience numbers dwindled.
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