Indian origin Hollywood producer Ashok Amritraj is on the verge of a professional landmark - he is set to start work on his 100th film that, at a budget of $90 million, will be his biggest venture and stars Hugh Jackman.
The Unbound Captives, to be directed by American actress Madeleine Stowe from her own script, will roll at the end of this year on locations in New Mexico and New Zealand. Amritraj, who runs the super-successful Hyde Park Entertainment, produced his first film Fleshburn in the 1980s.
"The Unbound Captives will be ready for release by end-2010," the Chennai-born producer told IANS in an exclusive interview in Cannes. "We hope to close all international pre-sales before this edition of the Cannes Film Festival ends."
Amritraj's first film as an independent producer was the 1985 movie Nine Deaths of the Ninja. His 100th will star Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Robert Pattinson and will be "a sweeping period epic made in the style of David Lean film".
Stowe, the star of films like Stakeout, The Last of the Mohicans and The Magnificent Ambersons, wrote the screenplay in 2002 but could not get it to the screen earlier as a result of several false starts.
"Russell Crowe was to play the male lead and Madeleine herself was being thought of as the female protagonist until she moved into the director's role," Amritraj said, recalling a part of the screenplay's "extraordinary history".
He said: "I read the script on a plane back from India and was immediately struck by it. As soon as I got off the plane, I called Madeleine's agent and the deal was done."
The film, Amritraj reveals, is set in the mid 17th century. At $90 million, it will be Amritraj's biggest film to date in terms of scale and sweep.
"We've assembled a truly great cast - Hugh Jackman is a huge box office draw, Rachel Weisz is being tipped for an Oscar nomination for her performance in Lovely Bones and Robert Pattinson is coming off the runaway success of Twilight," he said.
Around the time that Amritraj got started in Hollywood, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi was the flavour of the season around the world.
Twenty-seven years on, as he embarks upon his 100th film, another British director, Danny Boyle, has captured the world's imagination with the India-themed Slumdog Millionaire. Amritraj agrees that there is a renewed burst of interest in India and that Indian filmmakers need to grab the opportunities that are now available.
On his part, Amritraj is developing a couple of screenplays that would require extensive filming in the land of his birth.
"We will soon announce a music-based film that will be shot entirely in India though the screenplay is being written by an American," he said.
Time for another Jai Ho, then?