Daily Archives: December 6, 2010

Interview with… Ashok Amritraj

Photo: R. Ragu

Ashok Amritraj has had a rather good year. His productions in 2010 have met with critical and commercial success. He’s all set for his first 3D movie. And Variety hosted a swanky do at the Cannes Film Festival this year to celebrate his achievement of 100 films completed in Hollywood.

“They did a huge star-studded party for me on the beach at Cannes, and everybody from Jean Claude Van Damme, who did my first big film, to Eva Longoria and Bruce Willis was there,” he said, looking relaxed and, as always, debonair, as he lounged in his Chennai home. “It was very special.”

He was in the city for his customary year-end trip, before heading to Romania and Turkey to the sets of Ghost Rider 2, the sequel to the 2007 superhero flick starring Nicolas Cage as the motorcycle-riding, skull-flaming titular character.

“It’s very much the same Marvel Comics character, with the bike on fire, the skull on fire and so on, but in 3D,” said Amritraj with a laugh. “So the fire’s really going to come at you. It’s very fun.”

It will also be Hyde Park Entertainment’s (Amritraj’s company) first foray into 3D films, which he believes are here to stay. “The technology has given our industry quite a boost because of the ticket prices, to be honest,” he said candidly. “The price of tickets for 3D movies is 40 per cent higher in the U.S. and the U.K.”

The big tipping point, he said, is when the technology makes it into the average family’s home. “My kids already have 3D glasses to watch movies at home. I think there will soon come a time when we won’t need glasses at all, and then the technology will really take off.”

In the meantime, though, Hyde Park Entertainment is doing pretty well. Its September 2010 release, the hyper-violent, tongue-in-cheek, exploitation-style flick Machete by Robert Rodriguez (starring Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba and “Steven Segal resurrected from the dead”), received largely positive reviews and was a surprise summer hit. And the upcoming December release Blue Valentine (Amritraj has partnered with Harvey Weinstein for its distribution) is already receiving Oscar buzz for performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Which brings us to that inevitable question — any plans of an Indian production next? “I’ve had meetings with a couple of writers and directors to see if there’s any potential — it’s something I’d like to do since I haven’t done one since Jeans,” he said. “Whether it’ll be a fully Indian production or Indo-U.S. or Indo-Chinese, I don’t know.”

What he’d also like to see, though, is more Indians coming to Hollywood. “The second generation Indian-American kids are doing quite well, but I’m surprised that more people from India haven’t given it a shot,” he said. “I suppose if you have success here, you don’t want to go knocking on doors in Hollywood. But I hope to see a few new players soon; it just takes commitment, because finally, the colour of our skin doesn’t stand in the way of being a Hollywood movie star.”

He remembers when his friend Sidney Poitier led the African-American revolution in Hollywood, and again when another good friend, Antonio Banderas did the same for Latinos. “The Chinese have done a decent job as well, with people such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan and John Woo making a mark,” he said. “I think it’s India’s turn; we certainly have enough talent!”

If anyone knows about making it in Hollywood, of course, it’s this Amritraj brother, who is surprised at his own longevity in the industry. “There are maybe just four others in all of Hollywood history who’ve done 100 films. And my movies have altogether grossed $1.5 billion,” he said with a smile. “So I really am quite proud.”

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Book launch: “Another Chance” and “Urban Shots”

Chennai’s book lovers got a neat little two-for-the-price-of-one deal at a recent book launch at Landmark. You could even call it a three-for-the-price-of-one deal.

Two books – a romance novel and a collection of short stories were launched — and three authors were on hand to discuss the books with the audience that valiantly filled the seats in spite of the rain.

The books in question were ‘Another Chance’, Ahmed Faiyaz’s take on the rather complicated love lives of urban, upwardly-mobile yuppies in India, and ‘Urban Shots’, an engaging collection of 29 short stories by 13 Indian writers on life in our metros.

Both had Faiyaz in common – he’s contributed to three short stories in ‘Urban Shots’, and is the founding member of Grey Oak Publishers, which brought out both books. Their themes are similar too, with a focus on the urban experience in India.

“’Another Chance’ is reflective of our generation, where people are in a relationship but external and internal factors cause friction between them,” said Faiyaz, in conversation with Chennai-based writer Vibha Bhatra. “Careers make them move from city to city, they choose to go back to those they were in relationships with before, and so on.”

The story, then, sets up a love triangle (or should it be quadrangle?) between four beautiful, globe-trotting desi urbanites who’re trying to figure out what they’re looking for in life and love. “My greatest challenge was writing from a woman’s perspective this time, to bring out her point-of-view,” said Faiyaz, whose first novel, ‘Life, Love and All that Jazz…’ came out earlier this year.

‘Urban Shots’ (edited by Paritosh Uttam) touches upon relationships as well, dealing with themes of romance and infidelity. But it also takes on a whole lot else, from the loss of the child to domestic abuse, often with a great deal of sensitivity. Two of the contributors to the collection, Chennai-based freelance writer Malathi Jaikumar and journalist and author of travelogue ‘Chai, Chai’, Bishwanath Ghosh, were present at the launch and discussed why it was an important book.

“It’s very relevant as more and more people move to urban areas today,” said Jaikumar. “There are a lot of conveniences and chances for success, but also a lot of loneliness and depression. Anyone who reads these stories can identify with these situations, and feel like they’re not alone.”

Ghosh described the writers of ‘Urban Shots’ as spanning generations and providing different perspectives. “The youngest writer is 20 and the emotions one undergoes at 20, 25, 35 or 45 are different,” he said. “’Urban Shots’ is really many books in one book.”

This was a coming-out party of sorts for Grey Oak, set up earlier this year. These are its first two books and Faiyaz called ‘Urban Shots’ its “first big step.” “We thought why not make a statement by bringing young writes and noted writers together for a collection, and show our support for Indian writing,” he said.

The question and answer session that followed was a tad lackadaisical, punctuated by a series of mini blackouts. Still, there was time for a fairly in-depth discussion on short story writing and its evolution, and even a profound exchange on Somerset Maugham’s final book. Not a bad deal for the audience, overall.

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