'Writing isn't given enough attention'

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'Writing isn't given enough attention'

Veteran producer Ashok Amritraj, who is in the City for the eighth annual Bengaluru International Film Festival, is no newcomer to the film industry, with films like ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ and ‘Bringing Down the House’. Talking about the evolution of cinema and its audience, the lack of good stories and, well growing old, he explains his limp and reminisces about Bengaluru.

Is your leg hurt?

It’s fine. I was playing tennis and injured it a bit. Although my body has aged, I’m still young at heart and sometimes, I forget that I can’t do what I used to when I was young.

You’re coming back to the City after nearly a decade...
Yes, it has been a while. But I have fond memories attached to Bengaluru. My father, who worked with the railways, would bring us here every summer. And though I don’t visit the City often, I make it a point to come to India (Chennai) at least thrice a year.

How have you seen Indian cinema evolve?
It has been interesting. It’s hard for me to comment as I haven’t seen enough Indian cinema in all its different languages. But, I think, from a technical standpoint, there are terrific directors of photography, designers and crew. The writing still isn’t given enough attention, that’s always been a bit of a soft spot. And that’s something that continually needs to be worked on; films get better when writers are given more importance. Filmmaking, today, more than ever before, is so much about the writing. Even Hollywood studios are suffering as they have lost their originality. A lot of it has become franchise filmmaking, whether it’s ‘Star Wars’ or the Marvel movies, they are sequels or taken from comic books.

How much space do Indian films have on a Western turf?
On the grossing side, Hollywood cinemas still dominate. While Indian films are doing well in the Indian box office, they still haven’t found international footing. This is partly because of the storyline. The other part is that though the world has gotten smaller, the Western sensibility and Western take on what they think India hasn’t changed much. We’ve been having this debate at the Academy, on diversity and inclusion. But there is certainly more acceptance of global cinema in Hollywood today.

If franchises are king, where is the space for independent cinema?
This where guys like myself come in, the quasi independent studios that make movies like ‘99 Homes’. A lot of the movies that win awards come out of independent studios. These are interesting times where studios aren’t making movies like ‘Chariot of Fire’ or ‘Forrest Gump’ but are concentrating on independent filmmaking. You have very few studio developed and studio distributed movies that go for the awards.

The biggest challenge you face as a producer?
Finding great stories. Realistically speaking, if I have a great script I can get a director and actor, but finding that script is the bane of our existence! We, at Hyde Park Entertainment, get over a 100 projects a month but probably make just four to five. So movies end up maturing at different times. Also, at this point in life, it’s to keep doing better and not getting complacent. That’s after being in the industry for 35 years now.

What would you call a ‘great story’?
That’s evolved over the years, my taste has changed with age. I’m going to be 60 next month, and these days I look for something more emotional, more dramatic. Not that I don’t like the classic popcorn movies. The thing that keeps me interested in making movies is that I make different kinds of them, be it action, comedy or thriller.

What role do film festivals play in the growth of cinema?
Film festivals are very important, they bring people together. Let me qualify since there are so many festivals — the ones that provide a global platform for good cinema definitely have a place in the world today. Things are changing all the time and you need a platform to talk about that — what you liked, what you didn’t, how things are evolving... Film festivals are also good as a market and go side-by-side. These markets dictate what gets made.

But do they have an impact on mainstream, commercial films?
They are also screened at festivals. I remember going to Cannes for a ‘Star Wars’ movie and walking with Storm Troopers, it was great fun! But major films like ‘Ghost Rider’ don’t need to be, while the discussions at these festivals are important to films like ‘99 Homes’.

The evolution of the audience...
Has changed drastically. It’s much harder to get them to a theatre for feature films. There is too much good stuff so unless it’s an event based film or spreading through word-of-mouth, a film can’t be average. And the audience will continue to evolve and be much harder to please. Since people have to spend so much on tickets and food at a theatre, the film has to be worthwhile. Otherwise, they’d rather stay at home and watch ‘Game of Thrones’!

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