Hollywood talent manager hunts for Bollywood talent

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Sunday, February 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - An Indian American talent manager in Hollywood, who manages stars like Irrfan Khan in the US, is on a mission to rope in top Bollywood stars and promote films to be shot in India.

“I don’t see it as a challenge but more so as a creative interest,” Jai Khanna, manager at Brillstein Entertainment Partners, a Hollywood talent management film and television production company, said in an interview.

“Both industries are thriving with talented artists, technicians and stories,” he told IANS. But “I have a special affinity with Indian cinema and talent, as a first generation Indo-American exposed to the best of both worlds.

“With select talent from India, the ‘challenge’ is to bring them interesting material and have a creative and fruitful conversation about the benefits and negatives to engaging in such a project.”

Khanna, who booked Irrfan Khan on Sony’s new big-budget 3D Spider-Man film, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” and HBO’s “In Treatment”, is now looking to get more big names from Bollywood into established Hollywood projects.

“We have to recognize the stature of actors in India, for being at the top of their game, with an enormous body of work under their belt,” he says.

“There is no rush or urgency for Indian actors to work in Hollywood. There is never a sense of needing Hollywood to validate their work. I recognize and respect this,” says Khanna.

“As a result, it’s on a case-by-case basis on carefully looking at interesting opportunities in Hollywood, presenting them to our clients, then embarking on our next ‘challenge,’ which is to educate Hollywood on why such actor is the best selection for this role.”

“There is an illusion about ‘Bollywood’ based on a naivety, that it’s all song and dance,” says Khanna, who himself does not care much for that label.

“An education is needed for Hollywood to watch the Indian films in its entirety, so there is a much deeper level of respect and admiration for the acting that surrounds such song and dance.

“Again, the distribution and marketing of films can use improvement, here in the US,” he says. “They fly below the radar and tend to target the NRIs only. There would be no challenge for any actor, if a wider audience was not exposed to their craft.”

On booking Irrfan Khan on the new Spider-Man film, Khanna said Sony executives were impressed by the overwhelming response to the Indian star’s work in “In Treatment”, “a highly respected show in Hollywood.”

“Director Marc Webb reached out to personally express his enthusiasm for creating an interesting role for Irrfan, and making it worth his time,” he recalled.

“In regards to ‘Life Of Pi’, we were fortunate that Ang Lee is a student of world cinema. He was always a fan, and when ‘Life of Pi’ finally came together at Fox, it was an opportunity for both artists to finally collaborate.”

“Out of respect to Ang, Irrfan was very helpful in casting the young male lead and lending support for the production to be done in India.”

But in general managing the Bollywood stars is very different from managing Hollywood stars, says Khanna.

“Because of the distance of two cultures, there needs to be an extra level of education on our part to fully understand their stature in India. Again, we are dealing with the best of the best,” he said.

“They are not budding artists, but quite the opposite. They are exposed to great material, lucrative compensation, and country wide admiration. My strategy is to bring something different to the table,” said Khanna.

“One of the challenges is the pace of our business,” he says. “It moves quickly, as stars are eager to find their next projects and start production. My experience with a select few from India, has been the slow turn around in feedback.

“This lack of communication makes it difficult, but it’s getting better, with technology, or just helping to create a better infrastructure,” he said, citing the example of Hrithik Roshan, who he says “is great with communication.”

But Indian talent outside India, such as Navi Rawat, Jimi Mistry, Maulik Pancholy and Parvesh Cheena, is different, Khanna said.

“They are born and raised here, so they organically, understand the language, politics and nuances.

“They may appear to be Indian on the outside, but the mentality is that of an American. They know the rules of the game very well.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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