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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