Let’s jump straight into the vat, how did your love for wine come about?
Post my tennis tour, it has been wine and only wine. Earlier I would opt for a whisky. And as Kapil (Grover) and I are good friends, one thing led to another and you now have wines named after me!
VA wines with Grover Zampa vineyards. Tell us more.
The Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection includes a premium red and white. The red, a Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz aged 12 months in oak. The white, a Viognier completely barrel-fermented and barrique-aged.
How long have you been collaborating on this project with Kapil? Your friendship aside, why did you say yes to India?
It has been a labour of around two years. Now I’m here to promote the wines in India and to encourage the culture of wine drinking with a meal here. When I stepped onto the world stage for the first time as a tennis player, people abroad could not believe I was one. Until they saw me play. Similarly, the analogy applies to VA wines. Wine from India, for the world to believe.
So launch cities include Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Goa. And abroad as well?
Yes, London and the rest of Europe gradually, Japan, Sri Lanka and of course, USA.
Of course. How would you compare life in California and here in India.
I left India when I was 19 – in the Top 10 by ITF ranking – when California became home, my base since 1972. Yet India is where my roots lie. So it’s great to have a bit of both worlds. But the Indian food…
Yes, the Indian food?
I enjoy Indian cuisine the most. And the experience cannot be better than at The Leela. Given that I am a lamb and chicken person, I indulge in the lamb shank curry here and the oh-so-soft kebabs! At home I always have two vegetables on my plate.
Are you as natural a cook as a food and wine lover?
I was a great cook before I got married to my beautiful wife, Shyamala. Now I can cook well enough but travelling and the business keeps me a very busy man.
We hear your elder son, Prakash – the Business graduate and Davis Cup player – is closely assisting you in the business. What about Vikram?
Vikram is still in law school. Once he graduates, I hope he will join his brother and I in the multimedia business we run called First Serve Entertainment. The boys teach me a lot about technology today, which is all the more reason we would work well as a team professionally.
Did First Serve have anything to do with your prowess on the silver screen? How can we forget Octopussy!
Well, yes. I thoroughly enjoyed my stints in cinema. Funny thing about the role in Octopussy (1983), Albert Broccoli, the Director, whose daughter Barbara is a good friend now, took me off the Wimbledon court to have tea with him and get me to consider playing Vijay, the MI6 agent in the Bond movie. However, I first was cast in Fantasy Island in 1977 to acquire a Screen Actors Guild membership following which I could act on the silver screen. It was a blast, and Star Trek IV, too, where I played a starship captain.
Apart from other movies, there was television as well, not to mention sports commentator on Fox Sports in the US and Star TV in Asia.
With What a Country, I was the first Indian to star in a show on TV in the US. I did Police Academy and The Last Precinct, too. Back here in India, it was the path-breaking Dimensions with Vijay Amritraj (where he even interviewed former World No 1 Jimmy Connors, who he faced several times on court). You can look forward to Season II shortly. In Pursuit of Excellence was another talk show with 10
varied personalities including Amitabh Bachchan and the great late Captain Nair.
One last word on tennis…
Nothing compares to tennis. It teaches you things you didn’t know about yourself. You attempt the impossible actually. I was living in an unreal world and I always challenged myself. Like I still do today.
This interview was published in UpperCrust Magazine, Oct-Dec 2014, used here with permission from the publisher
Photo courtesy: UpperCrust Magazine