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    Ashok Amritraj just got appointed as UN India Ambassador and wants to use sports as a tool for gender equality  

    You probably associate Ashok Amritraj with one of two things — tennis or movies. The former Wimbledon player and now CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment, which brought Hollywood the likes of Ghost Rider and more recently 99 Homes, is all set to take on a new role with the new year. As of this week, Amritraj has been appointed the United Nations India Ambassador. We get chatting  on everything from the United Nation’s 17 sustainable goals for the year, to Dangal, Priyanka Chopra and tennis vs paintball.

    Let’s start out with the obvious. What are your plans as Ambassador?
    It’s basically day one, so I’m just getting my arms around everything right now. On an emotional level, having been raised in India — spending time here, learning tennis, watching my first movies, and all of the great times we’ve had with my parents and brothers… for me, this is a way of giving back.

    How do you plan to bring the UN’s 17 sustainable goals into focus?
    When you look at 17, it of course covers a broad range of things — education, gender equality, water, poverty and hunger. My area of expertise is media and entertainment. And collaborating with the media, to reach the widest audience possible, and really shine the spotlight on as much of this as possible, is going to be a focus in the months to come.

    Having grown up with tennis and then played at Wimbledon, is advocating for stronger sports programmes in schools a priority?
    I think sports is invaluable in a person’s life, especially in the current environment of computers, and cell phones, and being indoors all the time. And it’s a great equaliser as far is gender equality is concerned, which is on the list of sustainable goals.

    Would you like to see some of the newer sports like Ultimate Frisbee and Paintball more accessible to lesser privileged youngsters?
    I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  But irrespective of the sport, it’s more about learning from the spirit of an athlete. Sports builds character, discipline and focus. So I would really want to be supportive of sports programmes as a part of my role with the UN.

    Based out of Los Angeles, we’re guessing there’s going to be a lot of Skype meetings ahead and a super long Whatsapp thread…
    I think the world has gotten a lot smaller in the past 20 years. I come and go all the time. Also, I tend to bridge East and West — and get talking to a lot of people in LA, Hollywood and Silicon Valley who are interested in India, and have a great feeling in this part of the world.

    Indian actors are starting to gain a strong footprint in Hollywood, what with Priyanka in Quantico and Deepika in XXX.  Your thoughts?
    It’s terrific, and I think, a great time for filmmakers and actors from India to take advantage of, because it’s an easier transition with a more global and accepting audience. This wasn’t the case in the early 1980s, when I got into the game.

    Serious round table discussions aside, what are you doing for fun on this trip to India?
    Well it was my mom’s 90th birthday recently, so we had a cake with the figure 90 and a great time with the family. My wife wants to catch Dangal, and oh, I’ve got to get a cup of coffee at Sangeetha (restaurant)  before I go back.

    — Sonali Shenoy

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