I don't like the word crossover: Ashok Amritraj
He has made 80 Hollywood movies and probably is the first South-Asian producer in Club West. Ashok Amritraj connects with Roshmila Bhattacharya .entertainment Updated: Jan 31, 2008 19:41 IST
As a tennis pro, he played in every major tournamnet including the US Open and Wimbledon during a nine-year career span. Then, movies beckoned and over the last two decades, he has produced 80 movies including star- studded grossers like Bring Down The House and Raising Helen.
The first South-Asian producer in Club West, he now aims to introduce Indian talent in Hollywood. Ashok Amritraj connects with Roshmila Bhattacharya over cups of cappuccino..
It's said that India is the flavour of the season. Would you agree?
It's more like the flavour of the decade. The economy is booming but surprisingly, the entertainment industry, despite all the multiplexes, is lagging far behind the rest of India.
We have just 10 saleable stars in Hindi cinema and about six in Tamil. We need to create new talent. I did it in Hollywood when I introduced Jean Claude Van Damme in Double Impact.
Is that what brings you to India?
My parents live in Chennai and I try to visit them as often as possible. As I'm growing older, I'm drawn to India more. I enjoy the country, its people and I'm addicted to the food. I can't do without my rotis, sabzis, daal and chicken curry for more than 24 hours. I can see the signs of wealth and civilization all around me.. Prada, Gucci and McDonald's. I just hope that they don't take away the essence of what brings me home.
<b1>And what would that be?
The family bonds.. In the U S, channels and the computer have taken away the need for conversation. I still insist on eating dinner together with the family so that we can catch up.
Every three-four months, my brothers (Vijay and Anand) and I try to get together at my place in Los Angeles. We exchange stories over a glass of red wine and Indian khana. I enjoy listening to stories and telling my own. That's why I got into the movies.
You haven't made an Indian film since Jeans.
After Jeans, I've made 40 Hollywood films. But now that Hyde Park Entertainment is a global independent company making four-five films a year, I'm in a position to zero in on Asian talent. I'm working on an epic extravaganza, Frozen Flowers in South Korea.
The Other Side of the Line will introduce Shreya Saran to the west along with Tara Sharma and Anupam Kher. Then, there's Gateway, India's first reality show on film-making, which will give Hollywood a director from India.
What about an Indian crossover movie?
I don't like the word ‘crossover'. An Indian film in English about NRIs is not likely to work with the white Americans.. nor is the complete Bollywood package. But Indian talent can be tapped to tell cross-cultural stories.
I'd like to make a film about contemporary India. It surprises me that children here are more pro gressive than my kids who've grown up in LA, yet rooted in their culture. It's a fascinating study of contrasts.
Do you watch Bollywood films?
I've been watching a lot lately, since I'm on the Filmfare Awards jury. It's interesting to see that we've moved out of the stereotype and are telling more varied stories. Films like
are making money.
We also had sports-centric films like Chak De! India and Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal. How about one on tennis?
Tennis is a difficult game to photograph and also more elitist. I made Dreamer about a little girl and her passion for horse racing. Jeans didn't win an Oscar, not did any other Indian entry since.
Are we going wrong in our choice of movies?
I've served on the board of both the Oscars and the British Academy. I believe the Oscars are the only really fair awards. The jury is less swayed by visuals and more by emotional content. That's where a Life is Beautiful, CrouchingTiger Hidden Dragon or Amelia have scored over us.
For me, Jeans was the right choice but I didn't know what I was up against. (Laughs) Frankly, I'd rather make a Bringing Down House that earns me $700 million than make a film that wows 2000 people of the Academy and wins me an Oscar.
It couldn't have been easy for an Indian to make a place in the Hollywood Club?
Back in the '80s there was no Asian presence in Hollywood, there were only whites and blacks. Indians were guys with funny accents. I knew people who had me over to play tennis with them. But when they learnt that I was interested in making a movie, it was like, "Oh yeah, run along." (Smiles) Today, the same guys come home to play tennis with me.