CHAT Vijay Amritraj tells SIDDHARTH DASGUPTA about his latest outing as a celebrity talk show host and what keeps him motivated
In 1960s, a pale and afflicted boy in Madras (now Chennai) could not bear the exertion of a mere 10 yard jog, as he suffered from breathing problems (cystic fibrosis) and acute general weakness. However, destiny had far greater things in store for Vijay Amritraj. The fragile middle class boy from the South proved precocious in many ways in a public career, which has now spanned more than four decades. Amritraj, who is by far, the best known Indian tennis star at home and abroad, had a career highest ranking of 16, in addition to leading India in two Davis cup finals, reaching the Wimbledon quarter finals in 1973 and 1981 and defeating other legends like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver.
The versatile man was in New Delhi recently to announce the launch of an international celebrity talk show Dimensions, to be telecast shortly on CNN-IBN. Speaking about his latest project Amritraj claims, “ For the first time on Indian television people would watch an interaction with international celebrities abroad at their own location. We interviewed Pierce Brosnan and Cindy Crawford at their homes in Malibu, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi at the Agassi Academy for low income children, Michael Douglas in New York where he is recovering from cancer and we even interviewed Donald Trump at the roof of the Trump Towers and Hugh Hefner inside his Playboy mansion.”
The talk show, planned to be ten-part series initially, will include a range of international icons from various fields like sports, business, films and fashion among others. Elaborating on the quality of interaction, Amritraj says, “Most of the celebrities, who would be interviewed are personally known to me, so they opened up more quickly and easily. Also we could get them start talking themselves without much prodding on our part like Agassi spoke about his marriage to Brooke Shields and even Steffi spoke about her former boyfriend before marrying Agassi.”
When this tennis master-turned-star commentator is around, the subject invariably veers towards the court. Commenting on the state of Indian tennis, the former player seemed optimistic, “There are two great young and upcoming stars we saw in Chennai recently. Yuki Bhambri and Vishal Punna did fairly well. We tend to mature mentally earlier but physical maturity comes later. Going forward we have to pick on our potential players early and prepare them for singles rather than doubles which is anyways low in terms of incentives and becomes less and less lucrative as the players move up on the rungs.”
About the best possible double duo for India in the Olympics, Amritraj, alluding to the prospective Mahesh Bhupati and Rohan Bopanna partnership, said, “There are three wonderful players, two of them have shown keenness in playing together.”
The former head of the All England Lawn Tennis Club has a perpetually packed schedule that lists Vijay Amritraj Foundation as a priority. “We are focused on the poor, diseased and homeless. We have carried out free of cost eye transplants and operations.” The provenance for the welfare and charity lies perhaps somewhere in his past, when his childhood suffering made him want to become a doctor to alleviate the suffering of others. Just in the same way his parents did for him. “I stood on the shoulders of my parents, I do not know where I would have been if not for their support, care and concern for me. All that suffering and my parents' support tremendously changed my perspective. I wanted to go back and help people, and it is important to remember that no dream is far fetched, nothing is impossible, so just keep dreaming big.”