The biopic of a sprinter who survived India's partition but fell short in his most famous race swept Bollywood's awards Sunday in a party that brought US stars to the dance floor.
"Bhaag Milka Bhaag," the story of Olympian Milka Singh, took the prizes for best picture, best director and best actor at the International Indian Film Academy awards in a marathon gala at a packed stadium in Tampa, Florida, in the event's first time in the United States.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra dedicated the prize to the now 84-year-old Singh, who took the stage and said: "This goes to the boys and girls of India, who deserve to win the gold."
Singh was born in what is now Pakistan and watched as his family, including both of his parents, were slaughtered in the communal bloodbath that engulfed India as it was partitioned along religious lines at independence in 1947.
He discovered running while in the army and was recruited to race for India at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. The turbaned Singh took on the nickname "the Flying Sikh" after a remark by Pakistan's then leader Ayub Khan.
Singh had been a favorite in the 400-meter final but slipped behind after a promising start, ending fourth. Still, he is considered an athletic legend in India, which rarely performs well in international competitions other than cricket.
“He lost the most important race of his life, but he won in life,” director Mehra said.
Farhan Akhtar, one of the hosts of the awards ceremony, won best actor for the role. Singh said that watching the movie -- which translates as "Run, Milkha, Run" -- marked one of the three times in life that he cried along with his parents' death and his Olympic failure.
Best leading actress went to Deepika Padukone, who was nominated for three films. She won for "Chennai Express," an action film in which she stars opposite superstar Shah Rukh Khan who skipped the Tampa awards to concentrate on a movie shoot.
The romantic musical sequel "Aashiqui 2" swept all four prizes for music.
- Indian dancing, American flavor -
The International Indian Film Academy always holds its awards outside of India in a bid to show Bollywood's international appeal.
The first US edition brought two leading names of Hollywood, John Travolta and Kevin Spacey, who delighted the crowd packed into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team's 66,000-seat capacity stadium by trying their best at Indian dancing.
"House of Cards" star Spacey, who was wearing a tuxedo, donned an Indian lungi around his waist to cheers from the crowd. Travolta showed off his legendary "Saturday Night Fever" moves but also took the stage to dance Bollywood-style to the on-spot guidance of actress Priyanka Chopra.
Chopra saluted Travolta, saying, "No one else could have done that with no rehearsal."
The awards went on for more than five hours, ending past 3 am (0700 GMT), and was not without technical glitches including video segments that were played at incorrect times.
But Bollywood's performers revved up the audience with rousing dance numbers. Hrithik Roshan took inspiration from his award-nominated superhero character in "Krrish 3" by appearing in a science-fiction costume of flashing neon.
The awards also tried to take on an American flavor with one dance featuring pom-pom-waving cheerleaders. Hosts Akhtar and Shahid Kapoor alluded to Tampa's history by entering the show dressed as pirates and playfully wrestling a key to the city from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, himself in Indian formal attire.
The awards ceremony, held in the midst of elections in India, mostly steered clear of politics. But Bollywood legend-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha gave a veiled plug to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party as he received a lifetime achievement award.
Several Bollywood actors including top star Anil Kapoor made appeals for women's rights in the wake of a series of horrific rapes in India.