Ashok Amritraj: There aren’t many movie stars left in the world

Ashok Amritraj. File

Ashok Amritraj. File | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 1975, as a young tennis ace making his journey from Madras to California, Ashok Amritraj had a single goal: to win over the American silver screen. After a career spanning over four decades and 120 films, Hollywood producer Ashok Amritraj seems content.

After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, it is back to business as usual at Ashok’s production house, Hyde Park Entertainment. “We focussed more on developing projects during the break. That’s why our slate for the upcoming years seems vibrant,” says Ashok, who was recently in Chennai.

The producer has 25 projects in the development stage. One of those is an animated musical adaptation of Nidhi Chanani’s graphic novel  Pashmina that reunites Ashok with AR Rahman after 24 years (since the Tamil film  Jeans). “It’s like an Indian-American version of  Coco. We will be seeing a grandmother, a mother, and a teenager getting together. The young woman acts like a bridge between the two generations. The story is certainly exciting,” says Ashok, adding that the emotional facets of the storyline pushed him to take it on.

This year, he will begin work for the Blake Lively-starrer  Proxy from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (of  Pieces Of A Woman-fame). There is also a film that puts a sci-fi twist on the Rubik’s Cube. Yet, Ashok’s face lights up more, for obvious reasons, with the mention of the Arthur Ashe biopic that will begin production next year. “Many big studios tried to acquire the story’s rights, but Arthur’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe gave it to me as she felt we would do justice to his story,” he says, adding that he is thrilled with how Kevin Wilmott (a frequent collaborator of Spike Lee) has written the screenplay.

Ashok stresses the position that branded titles and other intellectual properties (IPs) have on the modern content-driven world, which he says lacks movie stars. “Except for a few names like Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, or Tom Cruise, there aren’t many movie stars left in the world like they used to be. We no longer have the Sidney Poitiers, Charlton Hestons, or the Clint Eastwoods.” So IPs are the next best resort. “We have an adaptation of Megan Crewe’s  The Lives We Lost in development at Apple and an adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s  Amnesty at Netflix,” he says, adding that well-known IPs are significant now more than ever.

Ashok Amritraj with Steve Martin.

Ashok Amritraj with Steve Martin. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Luring the audience to theatres, even with such branded content, has become tougher in this streaming era, he feels. “Even the theatrical window for films is reducing. It is no longer easy to get an exclusive theatrical run unless it is an event film or one that has a specific emotional quotient required.” As a result, the independent film business, Ashok says, has majorly become fodder for streaming services. “Even the induction of DVDs and pay-cables only yielded additional revenues for the movie business, but when streamers are democratising the world with subtitles and multilingual audios, theatres can’t do much about it,” he says.

Ashok has for long supported the cause of the Indian film industry in the global arena, but he believes that there is more work to be done. Rajamouli’s  RRR being re-released by Variance Films in the US, he says, is a step in the right direction. “A US company should release an Indian film on thousand screens. That should be the goal.”

However, he remains hopeful given the amount of talent India is producing now. “Indian cinema is on the path to do what the Koreans have already done,” says the man, who introduced Rajinikanth to Hollywood with  Bloodstone (1988).

Ashok Amritraj with Dwayne Johnson.

Ashok Amritraj with Dwayne Johnson. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Having worked in an industry that is known for its ‘hustle-or-be-hustled’ nature, Ashok likes it a tad more when actors don’t hesitate to push themselves hard, particularly during promotions. He describes Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a prime example of such a professional. “Actors are mostly reluctant about being involved in a film’s promotional campaigns. However, I remember asking Dwayne, during the release of  Walking Tall, to do a ton of talk shows. I thought he was a bit distressed about it but he actually said, ‘Can we do more?’.”

Finally, is Ashok eyeing a comeback to the Indian market soon? “We are looking at doing an Indian series with a top filmmaker, and we might do one more project but we aren’t in a place for more.”

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2022 1:45:47 pm |