Ashok Amritraj’s life has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. From growing up within an idyllic life in Chennai, he has gone on to become one of India’s best exports in the fields of tennis and Hollywood. Amritraj built the Hyde Park Entertainment Studios solely for the love of cinema. In India to release his biography, Advantage Hollywood, at the CII Big Picture with Jean-Claude Van Damme, he talks to Amrita Madhukalya about California, religion and everything movies.
How much does this book mean to you?
It has been a deeply personal and emotional experience. It took some time, but I’m happy with the way it has come out.
Any new books on the anvil?
Not sure if I’ll do another one (laughs). Writing is the most wonderful yet the most difficult art in the movie business.
We get over a 1,000 projects every year — video games, comic books, screenplays — of which I make only five movies. It’s tough to find the right one. But I enjoy the process.
Is it a good time to be a part of the Indian entertainment industry?
It is certainly growing, through satellites, broadband or multiplexes. On a creative level, different movies are coming out. I hear The Lunchbox is good. The challenge that remains is that movies here don’t quite cross over to a non-Indian audience. Indian language films make about $1 million in the foreign market outside.
Any Indian projects in the pipeline?
None at the moment, although I’m looking at a couple of things that will involve Indian and Asian actors.
What are your upcoming projects?
Nick Jonas has his acting debut in Careful What You Wish For. There is a family entertainer, apart from Walking Together with The Rock (Dwayne Johnson).
Are you deeply religious?
It’s very personal, and not something that I talk about. In a person’s makeup and upbringing, I think there’s a lot of room for religion.
Why did you choose Jean-Claude Van Damme to release your book?
It could have been Nick Cage, Steve Martin or Bruce Willis. But Van Damme and I discovered each other, and life changed for us after Double Impact. We’ve been friends for 25 years.
What led you to the movies?
At the end of some movies, a message reads, “When you are in southern California, visit Universal Studios.” That’s what I did when I went there first in 1975 — dropped my bags and headed straight to the studios. Even when I was playing tennis, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Who are your favourite actors?
I love Julie Andrews; and saw Sound of Music 34 times. I had a crush on the oldest daughter, Leslie (Charmian Carr).
Sydney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman are some of my favourite actors.
What is your favourite chapter in the book?
California Dreaming — where I go to California for the first time.