"The Other Side of the Line" is the title of a new movie opening today in the U.S. Its executive producer is Ashok Amritraj, the former-tennis-player-turned-Hollywood exec (click on the photo to magnify). His most recent film was "Traitor" with Don Cheadle; he's also worked with stars like Angelina Jolie, Bruce Willis, Antonio Banderas, Martin Lawrence, Sylvester Stallone, etc). From the press materials:
Entertainment writer and SAJAboard member Aseem Chhabra has been speaking to Amritraj about the film. Here's the audio of a SAJA/SAMMA webcast this week:
And here is the text of a one-on-one interview that Chhabra did this week, too, for SAJAforum...
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Former professional tennis player Ashok Amritraj came to Hollywood in the early 1980s with plans to launch a film career. It took him some time, but now Amritraj and his Hyde Park Entertainment have produced a series of high profile Hollywood productions with top stars, including Raising Helen (Kate Hudson), Bandits (Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton), Bringing Down the House (Steve Martin, Queen Latifah), Shopgirl (based on Martin’s novel and staring the comedian with Claire Danes) and Premonition (Sandra Bullock). But along the way, Amritraj has also kept alive a project that was eventually going to take him back to India – a romantic comedy about an Indian womanl working at a call center in Mumbai and an American man who falls in love with her.
After delays, Amritraj’s new film The Other End of the Line starring Jesse Metcalfe (Eva Longoria’s gardener in Desperate Housewives) and Shriya Saran (Shivaji) opens in the US on October 31. Directed by James Dodson, the film is based on a script by Tracey Jackson (The Guru).
Aseem Chhabra spoke to Amritraj about his new film.
Aseem Chhabra: This is your first film in India since "Jeans." Why this long gap?
Ashok Amritraj: Yes, "Jeans" was one of Aishwarya Rai’s early films and was nominated as India’s official entry for the best foreign language film Oscar. Since then, you know, it wasn’t as if I didn’t want to do something in India. Life here has kept me so busy. Trust me, I’m not complaining.
AC: How did this project evolve and do you think that the call center is story is tad bit old news?
AA: Tracey came in my office and pitched a two liner and then MGM and I decided to develop it. The script went through a couple of drafts, but then MGM got sold, so the project was put into limbo. Finally I was able to pull it out of limbo status and get it made. And actually Premonition was also in that same limbo status. And now, with my relationship with MGM, I was able to get this script out and decided to make a small and what turned out to be a lovely project.
I think this is far less about call centers and far more a romantic comedy, where one of the two leads works in the call center. It is the MacGuffin to get the story going, but it’s really the relationship between these two people. And I wanted to show Mumbai in a romantic light, which I think it is, just as San Francisco and New York City. It is a feel good young romantic comedy with a lot of good music.
AC: How do you think the American audiences will react to a small film with a lead actress who is from India?
AA: Look, I generally make movies that are distributed on around 3,000 screens. Traitor (a recent film with Guy Pierce and Don Cheadle) opened on 2,000 screens. Next year Hyde Park’s Street Fighter (based on the popular video game) will open on about 2,500 screens. This one (The Other End of the Line) was never meant to be one of those. It’s really a labor of love and it’s going out on 100 screens. It’s great that it is being distributed by MGM and I think it will do fine, from the standpoint of success.
For me it is also about building the bridge between Asia and the west, and to have actors who are being shown here and around the world. It is a nice break for Shriya. It’s the same thing for Street Fighter, where I have a whole bunch of Chinese, Asian and American actors.
AC: Why did you cast Jesse Metcalfe in the lead?
AA: We were looking for a young leading man and Jesse is a fairly classic, good looking guy. He is very talented. He was in John Tucker Must Die. He was perfect for this and he and Shriya looked good together.
AC: You have had both box office and critical success in Hollywood. How do you think your career has worked out?
AA: When I started out in the early 80s it was extremely difficult to switch over from tennis to the movies. I often say that everybody wanted to play tennis with me. Nobody wanted to make a movie with me. In 1990 I made a movie called Double Impact with Jean-Claude Van Damme with Columbia. It made a lot of money. The last 17 years have been very successful. I would say that besides the six studios, we are one of the three successful independent companies in Hollywood. It’s been a great time and it’s nice to see more Indian faces -- Manoj (Night Shyamalan) and J. Chandrasekhar or the guys on television who are coming along and doing well. Things have changed from 26-27 years ago to what they are like today.