Though Britain had been battered by one of the worst storms to hit the country for many years, leaving fallen trees blocking railway lines and traffic gridlocked, the Bombay Palace restaurant was heaving with the cream of the British Indian community for the launch of Ashok Amritraj’s book, Advantage Hollywood in London on Monday (October 28) at a dinner hosted by the Indian Journalists’ Association.
Amritraj was releasing his memoirs, which he has already promoted during its release in India. Some of what he said would have familiar to anyone who has followed his 30-year career in Hollywood where the youngest of the Amritraj brothers - Anand and Vijay are his seniors – switched from tennis to movies in 1980. But a surprising number appeared genuinely taken aback by the extent of his achievement.
Amritraj was on the whole very complimentary about the Indian film industry but the 57-year-old Hollywood movie mogul did want to emphasise one point. In India, actors and directors were greatly valued, he said. But now the time had come to give writers their due, he suggested.
“Indian cinema is so iconic in what it has done,” he acknowledged. “The only thing I would love to say is that every time I go to India I get pitched by actors and directors but I never actually get pitched by writers.”
He said he had the greatest regard for writers “whether you write a screenplay or a novel.... the idea is perhaps the most important thing, the idea of how you tell the story,” he continued. “Directors and actors are given so much attention in India that I think writers need to be paid more and given a lot more attention.”
To date he has made 109 movies, with the latest, Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins, closing the Toronto Film Festival and opening the one in Abu Dhabi on October 24.
“We are so very proud of what you have achieved in Hollywood,” said the acting Indian High Commissioner Virander Paul, while his wife, Racheline, formally launched the book (everyone was gifted a copy which the author patiently had to sign).
Amritraj had asked along Roger Spottiswoode, who directed the 1997 Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. The latter confirmed he was working on a film, A First Class Man, based on the relationship between the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his Cambridge colleague, G H Hardy.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) sent a message welcoming Amritraj to Britain. It was read out by long time BAFTA member, director Ahmed Jamal, whose credits include the Emmy nominated documentary on the killing of Daniel Pearl: The Journalist and the Jihadi.
Amritraj received a “Soul of India” award for services to Mother India, from tycoon Rami Ranger, who last honoured Salman Khurshid, India’s External Affairs minister.
There was fair representation from the House of Lords (Swraj Paul, Navnit Dholakia, Karan Bilimoria); House of Commons (Barry Gardiner, who has invited Narendra Modi to visit Britain); and the business and corporate world (the director of Tata UK, David Landsman; Kartar Lalvani). There were British Indian directors (Gurinder Chadha); actors (Madhav Sharma); writers; artists; and, course, many journalists.
The formal proceedings was wound up by Surina Narula, whose family company, Ozymandias Productions, has made a movie about cancer, Decoding Annie Parker. It deals with the BRCA gene that persuaded Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy.
“The lessons that I have learnt in India from my parents have stood the test of time,” Amritraj told his receptive audience. “Everything that I do stems from the fact that I am integrally Indian. The principles and discipline and focus come from India and from my tennis background.”
“I have great, great friends in India and I think the Indian cinema industry is one of the great cinema industries with extraordinary talent in front of and behind the camera,” he said, commending the directors of photography and designers and the costumes. “I keep calling it Indian cinema and not Bollywood for a reason because it encompasses a lot more than just Bollywood – and Bollywood just feels like a little bit of a rip off.”