Ashok Amritraj has already had two stellar careers: He was a tennis professional who played Grand Slam doubles with his brother Vijay and, after moving to L.A. from India in his early 20s, he set up Hyde Park Entertainment, a successful and prolific indie studio since 1999.
Now, the dapper 60-year-old has been recognized for his least-known role: as a committed agent of change in his native country. At a ceremony Jan. 27 in New Delhi, the United Nations appointed Amritraj as U.N. in India Goodwill Ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals. He was honored for his work across 17 development programs, including poverty and hunger alleviation, improvements in water and sanitation, and promoting gender equality. U.N. officials praised him as “a powerful advocate” for development and “a pioneering force in bridging India and Hollywood through film and media.”
“India’s traditions and cultures are with me all the time,” Amritraj tells Variety. “They shaped my tennis, my film decisions, and how I brought up my children. In somewhat Kipling fashion, we learned to play to win, but to treat triumph and disaster equally. Win or lose, we’d always say ‘Great match.’”
Among his contributions is his reality TV show “Chance of a Lifetime,” which brought together young people from India, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates to make short films on themes such as AIDS, migration, and universal education. The show — produced by Hyde Park, the U.N., ImageNation Abu Dhabi, and Variety — aired on Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan. The winning short played at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Other Hyde Park initiatives revolve around internet and cellular connectivity, including partnerships with the Indian government, the U.N., and creators of content for smartphones and digital media.
Additionally, Hyde Park has more than a dozen commercial projects in development, including the horror-thriller “Prey,” produced with Jason Blum.
Amritraj predicts that India’s global influence will grow in the next five to 10 years. “No question, it is definitely India’s decade,” he says. “Today’s girls and boys are smart and ambitious and come from a generation that thinks globally. Global Indians, be they in London, L.A., or Silicon Valley, are very supportive.”