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Indian shade in The Grey

One of the producers of the hit Hollywood movie is Indian, and his parents are Singaporean. -tabla!
Ankita Pandey Vallikappen

Fri, Mar 09, 2012

Liam Neeson's latest film The Grey has him fighting a pack of menacing wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. No Indian connect there, you would think. Sure Bollywood's had Alaska in its films, but only as a backdrop to a gorgeous actress dancing evocatively.

But when The Grey, a frosty survival tale, ends and the credits start to roll, you will see an Indian name. That of Mr Adi Shankar, executive producer of the film. And to bring the connection closer to home, he is the son of Singaporeans: His father is Standard Chartered CEO (for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Americas) Vis Shankar, who is currently based in Dubai.

The film has already made more than US$64 million (S$80 million) worldwide since its Jan 27 release and ranked No. 1 at the US box office in its opening weekend, making Mr Shankar, 26, the youngest producer to have a No. 1 independent film.

His bigger achievement, of course, is making a mark in an industry where Indians are few. Where a brown actor is often caricatured in insignificant roles. Where producers of Indian origin are even fewer. And the likes of M. Night Shyamalan and Ashok Amritraj exceptions.

Mr Shankar is the co-founder and co-chairman of boutique movie studio 1984 Private Defense Contractors, which produces studio-level, film-maker-driven action movies. Or as he likes to call them, "thinking man's action movies".

He also co-owns Room 101 with Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Devil Inside) which is a dark genre label specialising in micro-budget features and television series. And it is his Indianness, Mr Shankar says, that makes him exotic: "Today, Hollywood is not intrinsically American. Its scope is international. There are so many foreign films, actors, directors, producers that have made a mark here. Take, for instance, this year's Oscar-winner for best film The Artist, which is a French movie. Call it the Slumdog Millionaire effect... but because I am Indian, I think it makes me fundamentally more interesting."

His upcoming releases this year include the long-awaited Judge Dredd reboot, Dredd, and Andrew Dominik's Cogan's Trade starring Brad Pitt. He is also producing 2013 releases Broken City, a crime thriller featuring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe; the Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger action film The Tomb; and Steven Soderbergh's pharmaceutical crime thriller Bitter Pill, starring Rooney Mara and Jude Law.

It didn't all come easy for Mr Shankar, who is an American citizen. "I loved movies but never believed it to be a viable career choice," says the man who spent a large part of his childhood in Asia - in Calcutta, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore, where his father worked. He spent many summers in Singapore - he interned with advertising agencies, law firms and banks - and says: "I am astonished how Singapore has exploded. What's amazing is how organically it has grown. I was exposed to so much because of living in so many places. It has helped me tremendously."

And he names Indian American actor Kal Penn as his inspiration. After hearing him speak at Northwestern University in the US - Mr Shankar had three majors there: Business, theatre and management communication - he remembers thinking "here's one guy who looks like me, behaves like me and doing pretty well in Hollywood. If he can, so can I".

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