Amritraj seeks deal with Anil Ambani group to 'blend' cinema world

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Washington, Sep 22 (IANS) Indian American producer Ashok Amritraj is looking at a five-year revolving co-production deal with Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-ADAG) in an attempt to blend the world of cinema by building bridges between Asian, Indian and America film industries.

"It felt like the right move," Amritraj told IANS over a telephonic interview from Los Angeles.

Building a sort of cultural bridge between Asia, India, the Middle East and America was a thought, he said, that came to him a couple of years ago after making 98 Hollywood films over the past quarter of a century.

The former tennis-ace-turned-film producer said he had never really dealt with an Indian or Asian group before.

"Reliance was looking for investing and I was looking to blend the world. So it made a lot of sense," he said, explaining how the deal came about between his US-based Hyde Park Entertainment and the Anil Ambani-led group, which has in its fold companies like Reliance Entertainment and Adlabs, that has interests in film processing, production, exhibition and digital cinema.

Amritraj's latest comedy "The Other End of the Line", the first film under the deal with the Indian group is due for release across America Oct 31. "It has lot of songs... both American and Indian though no dances."

The film stars Jesse Metcalfe of "Desperate Housewives" and Shriya, who recently starred opposite Rajnikanth in the Indian blockbuster "Sivaji: The Boss." Shot in Mumbai and San Francisco, it also features Anupam Kher.

It's the story of an Indian credit card phone operator (Shriya) who travels to San Francisco disguising herself as American for a romantic liaison with a man (Metcalfe) she met through her work.

Upon her arrival, however, she decides to keep her true identity a secret, which threatens to dampen the sparks between her and her potential beau.

But, essentially, R-ADAG is an investor in the film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) as distributors, said Amritraj. Reliance had also brought in a lot of theatres - 60-70 screens owned by them in US.

Amritraj said R-ADAG was one such group his Hyde Park Entertainment was working with for financing his independent productions. But in India, they are the only ones.

Asked how the reported deal between the Anil Ambani group and Steven Spielberg would affect his own relationship with the Indian group, the producer said he was glad that more people from Bollywood and Hollywood were coming together and wished them the best of luck.

About the making of his latest film, Amritraj recalled that about five years ago he had talked with Tracey Jackson, an actress-turned-screenwriter for MGM studio, which wanted to develop something that could be shot in India.

Jackson had written "The Guru", the story of an Indian dance instructor in India who dreams of coming to America and becoming a big star.

But during the long development process, MGM was sold to Sony in April 2005, and the product was put on hold for some time, before he decided to do it himself with MGM distributing. Partly shot in India, the film was developed largely in America.

It's his third film as an independent producer. The first "Asylum" (2008) was distributed by MGM.

Currently in post production for a 2009 release through 20th Century Fox is "Street Fighter", based on the extremely popular video game. "With this we have been able to bridge the cultural gap," Amritraj said.

"It has a number of Asian actors and provides a nice platform for Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern distribution."

Amritraj's previous Hollywood comedies have included "Bringing Down the House" starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, and "Raising Helen" starring Kate Hudson.

One of his recent releases "Traitor", starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce, was among the top 10 at the box office for 10 weeks, Amritraj said.

As part of his continuing plans to "blend the world", Amritraj's Hyde Park Entertainment Group has struck a deal with the Singapore government's Media Development Authority to raise a multimillion dollar fund between Asia and Middle East to finance both Hollywood and cross-cultural films.

Acting as a bridge between the film industries of Asia and America, Hyde Park Asia will produce or co produce three to four films per year, consisting of a mixture of major Hollywood films and cross cultural titles aimed at a global audience.

Having produced or executive produced nearly 100 films with a worldwide gross in excess of $1 billion, Amritraj said: "During 27 years of my Hollywood career I am looking at other cross-cultural stage... to blend the world."

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