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A pioneer producer

HOLLYWOOD REEL

Bhuvan Lall  |  New Delhi 

In memory of Hollywood-based film financier and distributor
A few years ago at an Indians in American media event in Beverly Hills, I was introduced to a film producer by filmmaker as "an Indian pioneer in Hollywood". At that time, he was one of the few Indians working with A-list talent in Hollywood.
On October 9 this year, the shocking news came in the form of an early morning telephone call: the world of international entertainment and Hollywood had lost one of its most gifted film producers,
The son-in-law of late matinee idol Rajendra Kumar, Patel died at in Los Angeles of colon cancer. He was only 45. He is survived by wife Dimple, two sons Karam and Amar, father Sharad Patel and brother Viju Patel.
Born and brought up in Kenya of Indian descent, Patel graduated from the and gained extensive experience as a producer and director making commercials and documentaries in Britain. The future producer first arrived in California at the age of 21 in 1982 to distribute the docudrama Amin: The Rise And Fall about the former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, a film directed by his father.
Drawing on years of experience working with the film communities in East Africa, the United Kingdom and India, Patel formed Twin Continental Films Inc., a Hollywood-based distribution outfit, along with his father. They developed a multinational strategy, beginning with the financing and production of both feature and made-for-television films in Los Angeles and feature film distribution in India.
At the age of 23, Patel developed and produced one of Tom Hanks' first comedies, Bachelor Party, for about $6 million. The film earned over $40 million in 1984 in North America and an additional $38 million in video sales and rentals.
In the mid-90s, Patel conceived the idea to translate The Jungle Book onto a film while watching a National Geographic special on television. He and his father, along with of MDP Worldwide, took the live action version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book project to Walt Disney Studios and within 48 hours, a deal was cemented.
Patel went on to partner with Disney to produce The Jungle Book starring Jason Scott Lee, Sam Neil and John Cleese, and in the US, it grossed about $44 million in theatres, and twice that amount in video stores.
Patel also developed and produced two more films based on classical children's literature: The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996) and The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999).
In 2002, Patel co-produced Kaante, the first Hindi film to be shot exclusively in Los Angeles, about a heist by six former prisoners starring Amitabh Bachchan, Sunjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty and Kumar Gaurav. Patel was honoured with membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 1996.
In recent years, even though he was battling cancer, Patel worked with pop singer Michael Jackson and to set up the production company Neverland Pictures. Friends and colleagues in Hollywood knew of his ailment and all wished that he would somehow recover from it.
Last year, I spotted Patel at an event in Pacific Palisades. As always, he spoke passionately about his plans of making a $50 million action film entitled Hanuman. Alas! That was not to be. The Hollywood film community mourned his death. Michael Jackson, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie offered their condolences to the Patel family. ''Patel was a thorough gentleman and a good human being. May his soul rest in peace,'' said Jolie.
Patel had certainly carved a niche in the entertainment business. As Indian filmdom makes inroads into international waters, the pioneering endeavours of Hollywood film producer Raju Patel will always be remembered.
(The writer is the President and CEO of Lall Entertainment and can be contacted at lallentertainment@hotmail.com )

First Published: Wed, November 02 2005. 00:00 IST
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