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November 28, 2001

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Advantage Amritraj

Bharati Dubey

Ashok Amritraj is one happy man.

Reason: His latest film Bandits inaugurated the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) which commenced on November 22. Ashok Amritraj

The film stars Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett (Julia Roberts was initially considered for the part).

Amritraj is clearly excited after bagging the opportunity to show the film at the opening ceremony. He says, "It was definitely a very proud moment for me to come back to India with Bandits.

"Bruce Willis and Bob Thornton are definitely very happy to know that Bandits was screened at the opening of the festival."

Even as the release of the film was delayed due to the September 11 acts of terrorism, it enjoyed a "stupendous opening despite the fact that it was pitted against Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This is much beyond our expectations," Amritraj informs.

A tongue-in-cheek crime comedy, Bandits is a tale of two robbers: Suave, irresistible Joe (Bruce Willis) and his hyper, nerdish buddy, Terry (Billy Bob Thornton). Two fugitives who go on to become successful bank robbers -- until they fall for the same woman Kate (Cate Blanchett).

Together, the duo is the most successful bank robbers in US history and to Kate, together they are THE perfect man.

The film opened to 3200 screens.

In three years, Hyde Park Entertainment has 20 films to it's credit, including classics like The Third Miracle, The White River Kid, The Confession, A Murder of Crows and Entropy. Bandits

Presently, Hyde Park has a first look deal with MGM and a second look deal with Disney for domestic rights.

Their recent film, Bandits has opened to rave reviews as well as scathing ones.

Los Angeles Times put it across best saying, "An amusing tale of larceny triumphant, Bandits is an entertainment with a rogue's imagination."

Amritaj is probably the only Indian producer to make it big in America. "I'm positive that Indians can make it big in Hollywood. In fact, this is the perfect timing for Indian filmmakers to get noticed in the international market. There is a lot of curiosity about everything that it is Indian, not just Bollywood," says Amritraj.

"We have a lot of talented people. But the problem is that the two worlds are poles apart and there is no interaction. You can't come to Hollywood on a visit. To make a breakthrough, one has to actually spend at least three years to have any kind of communication. The way things are veering towards anything that is Indian, one couldn't ask for better timing."

Currently, Ashok Amritraj serves on the board of Foreign Films at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Amritraj's own production, Jeans was selected by the Film Federation of India as the country's sole nomination for Best Foreign Film in the 1998 Oscars.

What did he think of Lagaan's chances as the Indian entry for Oscars?Lagaan

"I haven't seen the film yet," he admits sheepishly. "We've had about 48 entries in this particular category. But from what I hear about the film, it has a good shot at making to the Oscars. Even if it features among the top five of the films, it will be an honour for the country."

Amritraj is all set go on floors with three films -- Goodbye Hello starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter, an action comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger and a comedy with Steve Martin.

Any plans of making another Hindi film after Jeans in the near future?

"Jeans was a crazy experience. It was completed in 18 months, where as Bandits was wrapped up in four months time. To work for 30 days, stop for 60 days and work again for 30 days is just not my kind of a scene. 18 months is just too long a period to be wasted in life," he smiles.

Amritraj, however, didn't rule out the idea of the doing another Hindi film.

"The film has to be very specific, very contemporary to India. No patriotism or period films."

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