Producer Ashok Amritraj spoke at the Bengaluru International Film Festival about the all-white Oscars, how difficult it was for him to break into the Hollywood industry despite being a tennis star, and how the colour of your skin doesn’t matter anymore . Excerpts.
From tennis to film… In tennis, you either won or lost. It was very clear. It wasn’t how I spin something, it wasn’t whom I knew. Movie making is different. It is timing, perseverance, tremendous amount of hard work, a lot of luck. I know wonderful actors and directors who can’t get a job and I know others who aren’t as talented, but are doing well. It is very subjective.
Indian cinema has not gone global Indian cinema clearly has audience that has grown in the last 10 to 15 years. Is Hollywood paying attention? The answer is no.
Indian cinema is evolving, but is yet to find its footing on the global scale. I don’t think there has been a real breakthrough in international cinema from India in a way that one can look and say ‘I want to go to India and make a movie for an international audience.’
The all-white Oscars… There are a lot of second-generation actors or actors from Indian cinema on American TV now — Priyanka Chopra, Kunal Nayyar, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan…
The Academy is still 94 per cent white and six per cent non-white. The year I became a member of the Academy was 1992 when Ray got his honorary Oscar. I don’t believe any of the Academy members seek out and vote for white people. They vote from their heart — otherwise films like 12 Years A Slave and Django Unchained wouldn’t have been nominated. It just happens that last year and this, all nominees have been white.
The colour of your skin matters a lot less today. You’re able to have an African-American lead in Star Wars ; you don’t need a Harrison Ford. The world is more open than when I started in the 1980s.
I felt I had arrived When they started returning my calls. (laughs) It took me 10 years knocking on a lot of doors. It was a lot tougher than I thought. It was very white, very Jewish.
It took me a while to realise they thought I looked good on their tennis courts but they wouldn’t give me money to make a movie.
It was when Jean-Claude Van Damme and I made Double Impact in 1991, and it grossed $100 million, people who’d throw away my messages started calling me back. In 1992, I became a member of the Academy and got on the Academy board, and all of which were firsts at that time.
The first time I went on a film set and went to the Oscars was in connection with Gandhi . The seven minutes I spent with Dickie (Richard) Attenborough on that set was life-changing. And at the Oscars, Gandhi won, beating ET .