It IS fairly easy to meet a celebrity these days – they are everywhere. But it’s rare to meet one who has been an icon in his time, and who remains one, decades after stepping out of the spotlight. I met one the other day, and his name is Vijay Amritraj.
There was a time when the name Amritraj spelled superstar in the world of tennis, and he was part of tennis ‘ABC’ triumvirate (the other two being Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors). Amritraj went on to become the most successful Indian player of all time, and even after hanging up his racquet, he continued to make his presence felt with his commentary and film appearances. No one forgot him.
Meeting him, you understand why. Amritraj has reinvented himself to fit in with today’s times, sure, but he also has that X factor which few celebs have – the ability to remain warm and genuine with his fans.
This week he was in Bangalore for the launch of his eponymous wine, made by the experienced folk at Grover Zampa. At the Leela Palace’s glitzy launch party, Vijay was crowded by the high-profile crowd, all wanting a brief chat or a selfie with him.
The Vijay Amritraj Reserve wines, white and red, by Grover Zampa, were well-received, being made in the accessible fruit-forward style that many find so appealing. The next night, I got to try the wines again, this time at an elegant Bangalore Wine Club sit-down dinner at the Leela’s Jamavar, where the talented executive chef Adrian Mellor put together a memorable 4-course dinner paired with the VA Reserve wines. And the wines came through at their best.
So did Vijay Amritraj. From the moment he entered, he chatted warmly with the group of 30 wine lovers, and kept the table agog with stories and reminisces right through dinner. “You’re the first people I’ve met here who haven’t reminded me of the matches I’ve lost,” he quipped, going on to recount how he, Borg and Connors visited a distillery in Edinburgh after a tournament, and the owner focused entirely on Amritraj, ignoring both Connors and Borg. Why? He retorted, “If Indians stop drinking Scotch, I’d be completely out of business!”
The wine project with Grover started over three years ago. Tastings and trials followed, until all were satisfied with the wines they developed. Vijay himself drinks only wine. “I believe India will in future, be regarded as a wine producing nation. Look at tennis. Where were the Indian tennis players 30-40 years ago? With wine, our time will come.”
As the evening progressed, I was struck again how easy and warm he was with everyone. Especially when the singing started post dinner, and My Way gave way to Shame and Scandal (In The Family) by an old Amritraj pal, Trini Lopez.
Amritraj has a nifty baritone. But no shame or scandal here, just a whole lot of fun and wine.
Ruma Singh presents
a column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.m firstname.lastname@example.org