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Living the Hollywood dream

Reinventing himself is something Ashok Amritraj is good at. He began as a tennis player and was even a Junior Wimbledon finalist in the 1970s, only to change paths and pursue filmmaking. He went on to produce over 100 films over the years. Now, he dons the role of a writer albeit for his own autobiography, titled Advantage Hollywood, and does it with aplomb.The book packs in humorous anecdotes to recount his childhood days in Chennai when he dreamt of succeeding in Hollywood, his awkward adolescence, his tennis career and his adventures as a producer where he had to learn the art of handling all kinds of situations, while living in a foreign country. Also included are anecdotes, historical references to Chennai and literary passages that offer perspective to the saga. Excerpts from an interview:


Ashok Amritraj’s autobiography Advantage Hollywood has hit bookshelves

What made you pen your autobiography at this stage in time?
Three years ago, my father started having memory loss and he got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It triggered something. On my trips to Chennai, I started asking questions to my parents about our family history and memories came rushing up.

Was it a conscious decision to include historical references?
Yes, the Chennai I grew up in was different from the city it is today. The next generation hasn’t seen it and much of it is gone. It was a wonderful place and these details help the reader know the atmosphere in which I grew up.

What were the major hurdles you faced?
As a producer I am used to making notes on scripts. I know the material and how to configure it. This was a challenge from start to finish. I have never been a writer; I hit a few blocks and decided to deviate from the linear narrative. So, the book starts in 1991, goes back in time and moves forward. The book is an immigrant story; a journey from East to West. And also about how family is important to career longevity.

Was it difficult to be candid about certain aspects, especially about your childhood?
In the book, I mentioned how I had myopia and was short and fat. I used to feel like the ugly duckling in the family, especially with two better-looking and talented brothers. But in some years, I grew up, won matches and got contact lenses. Life started smiling and I felt much better about myself.
When you reach into your memories, it is a difficult process. One has to be upfront and honest for authenticity. It was more difficult that I had imagined, especially to remember the phase when I had to knock on many doors to become a filmmaker and had many of them closed on my face.

After making inroads in Hollywood and dabbling briefly with movies in India (Jeans), are you open to making a Bollywood movie?
If there is something original and interesting, I am not averse to it. But there is no point in me doing a classic Bollywood movie as there are many filmmakers already doing so.

What are some of the experiences you have had working in Hollywood?
The actors are always very professional. It is a major business and Hollywood has majorly influenced
culture, hairstyles, and style around the world. Over the years, certain aspects have changed. Today, the marketing, visual effects and the distribution has changed; social media has become very important in marketing films. Everyone can be an action star with green screen backdrops; action heroes such as Jean Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone are
less prevalent.

What is your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
When I started off I was incredibly naive and thanks to the fearlessness of being young, I dived in despite the prospect being daunting. My advice would be that if you are passionate, go for it. Follow through and don’t do anything halfway. Perseverance, focus and discipline are very important; they helped me in the process so that I didn’t cut it short and run.

What are your other passions, apart from tennis and filmmaking?
I still host tennis matches at home on Saturdays. I am a wine connoisseur and there is a label named after me. I am also an art collector and have a collection boasting of artworks by artists such as Picasso, Dali and Chagall, among others. 

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