He is Bollywood's 'gateway' to Hollywood
By Ela Dutt, IANS
You could call him Hollywood's ambassador to Bollywood or vice versa.
For London-born Sheeraz Hasan, who now runs a talk show on Hollywood stars in the US, considers it his religious mission to make the two cinema worlds meet.
On his talk show TinseltownTV broadcast from Los Angeles, he has interviewed the likes of Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez as well as Steven Spielberg.
Hasan, who moved to Los Angeles in 2002, is yet to visit Mumbai. "Bollywood is so popular in England, more popular than Hollywood," Hasan told IANS.
"I used to watch a lot of the Indian style programming and music - and used to think where's JLo or Tom Cruise? I said hold on a minute there's something wrong here."
That's when he got the idea to promote Bollywood in Hollywood. "That was in 2000. That year I went to perform my Haj - the full pilgrimage - this is when I prayed for everything that has come true today."
He got his break after reaching Hollywood in characteristic fantasy style.
Micheal Levy, once Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor's agent and now producer, saw him in tears praying before the big "HOLLYWOOD" sign and was convinced Hasan's idea of bringing Bollywood to Hollywood had potential.
Today TinseltownTV and a website he set up by the same name broadcasts a once-a-week programme where almost every Hollywood star has appeared and been interviewed by Hasan.
It reaches some 500 million viewers in India and elsewhere, including Britain, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Fortune Small Business Magazine featured him in its December 2003 issue.
He says he has just wrapped up a contract with ARY Digital in Dubai and has signed a contract with CCTV in China to air his show from June, and with Astro Networks in Southeast Asia.
He says his website tinseltown.tv receives four million hits a month. With ARY, he says, "Tinseltown will be airing all over the world now in 128 countries".
"In Hollywood, people do not know who Aishwarya Rai or Kareena Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan are," Hassan rails.
"Because of Tinseltown, and because I am backed by the biggest talent agency in this town, I meet these people every week - they are so ignorant about Bollywood."
Rowland Perkins, founder of CAA, one of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood backs Hasan and sees him as a "gateway" to Bollywood.
He told Fortune Magazine: "Nobody turns down an interview with Sheeraz. Hollywood is always looking for a way to open a market that huge - the amazing thing is that nobody did it before.
"Sheeraz spotted the niche, saw that it was underserved and made it his. He didn't do a feasibility study - he just did it. And now he's the Bollywood guy on the red carpet."
Claims Hasan: "I am in a position that top talent agencies ask me 'who is the Tom Cruise of your country?'. I have had top people from Disney, Revolution Studio, Universal Music at my parties and I am showing them 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum'.
"I am showing them Bollywood movies and music videos. So now I am becoming really, the ambassador to that market."
According to him, Hollywood is looking for "crossover" actors who can bring their audience with them. And what bigger audience than India.
"And the few people Hollywood is talking about apart from Aishwarya, are Kareena and Hrithik Roshan. Those two actors, if they had representations here..." he trails off, "And I don't even know them."
Interestingly, he never fails to bring in the topic of spirituality with the stars on his show.
"I have interviewed over 600 celebrities and every one of them believes in god, they all do things to stay spiritually grounded. And in Hollywood, there are at least 20 charity events a week to raise charity money," Hasan counters.
Some of his drive comes from his experiences.
At 16, he lost his father, had to stop his education, and join his mother, Nadra, to grow their small family restaurant - Bloomsbury, into Tinseltown, a one-of-a-kind 24-hour, 350-seater American style diner.
Now his brother Suhail has taken over helping his mother and is also taking care of the UK side of Hasan's TinseltownTV business.
"I should be going any time to India. I haven't been to India but I have been invited by top people in India. They all want to invest in my venture."