It Is The Time Of Disruption: Ashok Amritraj
In the famed BW Dialogue series, Dr. Annurag Batra, Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld speaks with Ashok Amritraj, International Filmmaker & Former Tennis Player and takes us through the journey from a start tennis player to Hollywood mogul
The series ‘BW Dialogue’ brings achievers and global leaders from all walks of life to share their leadership and life lessons. An internationally renowned award-winning producer, Ashok Amritraj has made over 100 films during the span of his 30-year career and partnered with every major studio in Hollywood and produced films starring Bruce Willis, Sandra Bullock, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Dustin Hoffman, Andrew Garfield, Steve Martin, Antonio Banderas, Robert De Niro and many more. And before, he has had an extraordinary career as a successful tennis player. While speaking with Dr. Annurag Batra, he dwelled upon his transition from a successful international player to renowned Hollywood movie maker.
In India, we achieved everything in the world and people of Indian origin have conquered every domain at the global level. The one domain that nobody conquered, has been conquered by you and that is in Hollywood. And, it would be unfair to just describe you as you are a man of many parts- a great sportsperson, a film producer, an author, and UN Goodwill ambassador. But most importantly, you are an Indian at heart and a Chennai boy. So, tell me, are you are still a Chennai boy?
Yes, I am still a Chennai Boy. I have grown up in Old Madras. And, I grew up playing tennis at places like Gymkhana club, Don Bosco and other places in Chennai. My mother used to kick us out of the house to go running on the roads and we would run for a while, pretending we had run miles. So, after realizing that my mother would make us run behind the car we make sure that we run at length. It was great and wonderful growing up in Chennai.
You are a global citizen you and worked worldwide. Tell me if anything has changed since 2014 after Narendra Modi became PM.
I don’t think from my standpoint there has been a huge deal of difference. But, India has grown in the eyes of the international community in a very big way. Certainly, India is a growing economy in the world. India is on its way up.
Ashok, you made it in such unrelated field from your background as an ace tennis player. You are the only Indian who made so many blockbuster movies in Hollywood on a big scale. Besides, you have a public philanthropic role and you are a mentor to your children. All have very different roles. What is one common thread that runs through all of those?
I think, growing up and playing sports is a great thing for a young man and young women in his and her life. It teaches you a lot. It teaches you that what you put in, you get out of that. You know, you work hard and focus on discipline and I think all of these things come from sports. The entertainment business is a very complicated business, and I was trying to make in the early 80s. Back then I was surrounded by a sea of white people. I was probably the only Indian at that time who made it.
You work with Hollywood stars and just to read out few names that include: Bruce Willis, Sandra Bullock, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Dustin Hoffman, Andrew Garfield, Steve Martin among others. Who is your favorite?
I have done three movies with Steve Martin and it was a successful work. With Angelina Jolie, we did a movie called Original Sin. It was a big feature film. She was shooting with Tom Raider at the same time. With Sandra Bullock, we did Premonition. She is a producer and actress so she probably understands the demands of movie-making in a better way. And what she was trying at that time was to change from comedy to doing something different. So, we had a great experience working together.
How about Dustin Hoffman?
Dustin is also a good tennis player and we made a movie called Moonlight Mile together and it was a huge privilege working with him. I grew up watching the Graduate.
Now, please tell us about some movie stars that you have not worked with and you want to collaborate with them, like Tom Hanks and others?
I think Tom Hanks would be interesting. Brad Pitt would be great. Johnny Depp would not be interesting (smile). I think, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Brad Pitt would be interesting.
Let us talk about the huge disruption in a way the content is managed. So take the example of Netflix and Amazon. Are they going to change the direction of the business of content and business of entertainment?
Yes, it is the time of disruption. These are certainly disrupting the distribution markets. But, they will never replace movie studio completely, so like if you are watching Avengers, you like to watch on the big screen. You really have to focus hard on whom you are making these movies for. Is it for a female audience, or it is for a Latino audience. Is it for over 35 or under 35? So, it is becoming very important for you to know what your marketing plan is before you make a movie.
What is your leadership style?
I think of myself a fairly good judge. I don’t think that if I go to Harvard I should do this or I am beautiful then I should be doing that. There is a persona and lot of other things coming into being. From my standpoint, you lead them through the process. I would take them along and this is my mentoring process. Leadership comes along with success too and it grows as you become more successful. It is also instinctive.