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The man for a smash

When Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman or the fine comic actor Steve Martin call Ashok Amritraj, they don't ask him to produce a regular Hollywood entertainer starring the two of them. They get him to produce an offbeat film like Moonlight Mile, in which Hoffman starred with Oscar winners Helen Hunt and Susan Sarandon, or Shopgirl, based on Martin's bestselling novella.

"Many producers stay away from these projects because they think they are too risky," Amritraj says. "I know they are risky, but I also know we produce them on a very tight budget;
Superheroes are big money-spinners, and savvy producers know this. Among his upcoming films are projects based on Lee Falk's characters Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom.
Photo: Kevin Winter/
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we have a good shot at recovering the investment." The former tennis player's offbeat films like Moonlight Mile have received upbeat reviews and have been shown at film festivals including the annual event in Toronto. And they have eventually made back the investment, thanks to DVD sales and cable television screenings.

"I make these films because, despite my preference for mainstream films such as Bringing Down the House (a comedy staring Steve Martin that grossed $200 million worldwide), I also like quirky subjects," he adds. Amritraj, seen here with actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, has been making films in Hollywood for over 26 years. Since Fleshburn, his debut film as a producer, he has produced, executive produced or co-produced over 93 movies.

All his productions in recent years have been with major studios -- like Bandits, starring Bruce Willis for MGM, and the recent hit Premonition starring Sandra Bullock for Sony. The latter was made for just about $20 million, one third of what a star-driven average Hollywood film costs, and is on the way to gross $100 million worldwide.

Often called the Raja of Hollywood, Chennai-born Amritraj has a deal with 20th Century Fox to produce four to six films a year with a total budget of $300 million. And, while many independent producers who were making films 25 years ago have vanished from the scene, he is forging ahead with productions featuring major actors.

"Hollywood is a welcoming town if you convince the studios that you are a serious player," he says. "But if you make the wrong moves, it can also be very unforgiving."