What a ride!

As the “Ghost Rider” drives once again into theatres this week with “Spirit of Vengeance”, producer Ashok Amritraj takes on a volley of questions.

He still keeps returning the ball. Ashok Amritraj might have come a long way from professional tennis but his famed perseverance is paying him in show business. One of the very few South Asian faces who can truly claim to have a foothold in Hollywood, the producer is in India to promote his 103rd venture, the much awaited sequel of “Ghost Rider”. With Nicolas Cage reprising the role of Marvel comics’ antihero, Amritraj says it is one of the biggest films of Hyde Park Entertainment, his production house. Releasing in 5000 theatres across the world, Amritraj describes “Spirit of Vengeance” as “the classic good versus evil story but in terms of special effects it has many surprises to offer.” Shot in Romania and Turkey, Amritraj says the 3D film is targeted at an audience between the age group of 13-24. Deeply involved in the promotion design of the film, he says different territories demand different strategies. “In Italy, Cage will dominate the poster. In the US it will be the bike!” He agrees Cage’s career hit a roadblock. “After ‘The Rock’ and ‘Face off’, his career went into a downswing but I believe with The Ghost Rider he will be back in the zone.”

Amritraj has not said good bye to the game. In fact every Saturday his Los Angeles residence becomes the centre of attraction as stars like Dustin Hoffman, Pierce Brosnan and Sandra Bullock descend to take him on in a friendly. He claims to have introduced more Hollywood stars to Indian food than the Indian restaurants abroad. Talking about his success in Hollywood, Amritraj says it is a case of dream exceeding reality. “Tennis was more of a family business, cinema was the real passion. And once I saw Los Angeles I fell in love with the city.” On opting for production as a career, Amritraj says I wanted to be the guy who would make all the calls and not the one who keeps waiting for the calls.” However, the journey was not all that easy as Amritraj says he had to face “a lot of prejudice from the white-dominated industry in the 80s”. “I had to knock at many doors and a lot of doors were slammed on me. First it was like how can a sportsperson make a film and then it was how can an Indian make a film in the U.S.? Those were the days when the world really seemed a big big place and India had yet to become the darling. That’s why after ten long years when I made ‘Double Impact’ with Jean Claude Van Damme and it became a huge success worldwide, I was asked by the U.S. media: Ashok, how do you feel about achieving overnight success?”

Of late, Bollywood is also hit by the craze of sequels, remakes and special effects. “India has woken up to sequels now but don’t forget that if Hollywood indulges in sequels and 3D stuff it also produces an equal number of original stories every year. And its stars are not shy of being part of small films. We have George Clooney doing ‘The Descendants’ and Brad Pitt was part of ‘The Tree of Life’. And mind you there the competition among stars is huge. Here you have just about half-a-dozen stars. Unless they back the small films with original ideas, the small films won’t be able to make an impact at the international level.”

He admits that undoubtedly Bollywood has become big but internationally the films are still being released in theatres which cater to the Indian Diaspora. “You have to be clear about your priorities.” And part of the problem, he says, is that Bollywood is not focussing on original writing. “I think writers are not getting their due here. I believe here directors do the narration to actors. It shows your concern for the writer. In Hollywood it is always the writer.” He reminds many years back he was part of a reality show looking for a young director. Bejoy Nambiar, who made the critically acclaimed “Shaitan” last year, was the winner. “There is some exciting talent that has come up in the last few years but you need to discover writers with the same zest.” Talking about the way forward, Amritraj says either you make films driven by special effects and larger than life characters or make small films driven by compelling stories. “The middle path doesn’t work. It is a dark alley.” It has been a long times since “Jeans” and Amritraj is eager to work on an Indian project. “We are looking for collaboration. We will make an announcement soon. As of now I can only say it will be a story-driven project.”

Hollywood stars are not shy of being part of small films. We have George Clooney doing ‘The Descendants’ and Brad Pitt was part of ‘The Tree of Life’… And mind you there the competition among stars is huge. Here you have just about half-a-dozen stars.