In Conversation With Ashok Amritraj: Celebrating his 40-Year Legacy

Ashok Amritraj
Ashok Amritraj

From tennis superstar to iconic Hollywood producer and philanthropist, Ashok Amritraj transitioned his career from tennis to an internationally-renowned Award-winning Hollywood producer. Amritraj hails from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India and got his start in movies by producing independent films. His first big hit was “Double Impact” starring Jean-Claude van Damme. He continued his career by working with highly acclaimed actors Robert De Niro, Steven Martin, Angelina Jolie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Aishwarya Rai, to name a few. Amritraj was the first Indian producer to become a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures in 1992. His awards and accolades do not stop there as he was MVP of the Los Angeles Tennis team when they won the World Tennis Championship in 1978. I had the incredible opportunity of interviewing Ashok Amritraj over Zoom. Continue reading to learn more about the journey of this incredible individual.

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Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Through research, we learned that you watched the movie “The Sound of Music” 33 times. How has this movie influenced you at a young age and how has it impacted your career in the long run?

Growing up in Chennai, India, I’ve always been a fan of Hollywood movies, and I grew up watching and hearing about the big studios, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Disney and so on.

Particularly, I loved the musical and loved what Bob Wise, the director of “The Sound of Music,” had done. Many years later, I was on the Academy board for foreign film, and Bob was seated next to me. I remember telling him I watched his movie 33 times.

In the end movies are meant to transport you to another world and when you leave the theater you feel so fulfilled and great. It was really a very important point in my life as I was young and very impressionable. And of course it is a great film.

With tennis being your entry into the United States in the 1970s what were some life lessons you learned from the sport that you carry on in your everyday life?

Tennis has always played a very important part in my life. It builds character and teaches you that hard work pays off. It teaches you about perseverance, discipline, and focus. Tennis being an individual sport, the responsibility rests on your shoulders. When you’re on the court, it’s all about how you perform. Those lessons are character builders and life lessons. And of course, those are lessons that served me extremely well, in the entertainment business.

When I went into the entertainment business, I didn’t know anything about it. I had no relatives in it and there was no one to follow. There was no Indian who had really made it at that point. People were always wondering what is this kid is doing here? He was on the tennis court, and we liked watching him play tennis. Now he’s producing movies. I had to create my own path, being the first to do it.

Even in the early ’80s to mid-’80s, I made one of the first US-India co-productions with a gentleman named Rajinikanth. He’s one of our iconic Indian stars who played the lead in an English film for me called “Bloodstone.” Rajinikanth has remained a friend ever since and has gone to do many great things. I also did the movie “Jeans” which was Aishwarya Rai’s first film. I like saying Indian cinema because there’s talented actors all over India. And since I’m from the South I can’t quite reference Bollywood only.

Is there a treasured memory while being on the Los Angeles Tennis team you would like to share?

Jerry Buss brought me to play tennis for the Los Angeles team. In 1978 we won the World Team Tennis Championship. I was named MVP that year and I remember walking into Jerry Buss’s office, and he handed me the keys to a burgundy Jaguar. It was my bonus, which was rather extraordinary of him. He was always a larger than life personality.

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You dipped your toes into Hollywood in the early 1980s. What were the first grueling five to six years like networking in Hollywood and trying to get your foot in the door?

First, let me start of by saying I have an extraordinary amount of respect for the first generation of South Asians that came out here and have made it so spectacularly: as doctors, in the tech world, as engineers, etc. I mean, it was really tough. It was a completely new world. There was no safety net for us.

When I started, I don’t believe there were any brown people in Hollywood at that point, so it was very daunting. I was surrounded by a sea of white, very different from today. I got into the Hollywood movie business out of my love for movies, and I thought to myself, let me figure out how I can make one movie. I never dreamt that I was going to make 120 films.

Everybody was welcoming because they wanted to play tennis with me; however, nobody wanted to make a movie with me. So, I knocked on doors and bruised my knuckles. I’m not an easy guy to throw out if I get in the door, but it was tough.

There was no talk of diversity in those days. It wasn’t even in the conversation. Nobody even really knew where India was. I remember a studio executive asking me, oh, you’re going to India, which part of India is Singapore in? He actually thought Singapore was in India.

And you may have heard the story when in 1984 I met this young limo driver. In 1990, I met him again at the Cannes Film Festival, and it was Jean Claude Van Damme. He said, out of 800 photographs I sent out, you were the only one to call me back, and we should make a movie together… That was “Double Impact”.

This is a perfect transition to my next question. The ’90s is when you first tasted success in Hollywood with movies like “Double Impact.” What did this mean to you?

From the mid ’80s to 1990 I made a lot of smaller films. It was a time when HBO, Showtime, and USA networks were making their movies of the week with a budget of $3 million dollars to $4 million dollars. It was a great time for me to learn and understand how to translate a script to the screen, what it took in the casting process, production, the editing process, and finally how to market a film.

It was a terrific time of learning and a great education. I made a bunch of smaller films at that time, so I was ready when “Double Impact” came along. I had done my homework and worked those 14-to-16-hour days. The movie came out in August and was a huge hit both here in America and abroad. And, quite frankly, people who threw my phone messages away, picked them up and started calling me back. That’s Hollywood. It made me a very successful producer and Jean Claude a major star. The change was sort of unimaginable, after all the struggles an overnight success in 10 years. In 1991, it was truly a time of double impact, because I married my wife as well the same year.

For our readers, what are the general roles and responsibilities of a film producer?

Film producing is what each one chooses to make it. I would say I am a complete film producer in the way that I take an idea or a book and take it all the way to the screen.

We develop the screenplay with the writers and then bring on the whole package: directors, stars, and financing. Whether we co-finance it with the studio, finance it in a different way ourselves, there are different versions of how we finance movies.

The next steps are production, postproduction, all the way to what we call delivery of the film to the distributors. Ultimately this leads to the whole marketing campaign, the trailer, and the artwork. We are involved in every step. In the old days, we would always be battling about how much prints and advertising money is being spent or marketing dollars were being spent.

You wanted your movie to get the best shot possible out there in the marketplace and how many theaters you were able to clear. Was it 3000 theaters or 2500? Today that whole model has changed dramatically with streaming and shorter theatrical windows. As we sit here speaking, it’s changing some more.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with wonderful writers, directors, actors, and great talent in front of and behind the camera.

I always think of a producer’s job as really complete. I try to encourage anybody who works with me at Hyde Park to get the full experience. I think it’s important to know everything, even if you want to choose certain areas, it’s very important for a producer to have the knowledge. We’ve always had multicultural executives and interns because that’s always been my thing, to build that mandate and build that bridge between US and India, which is why my logo is the bridge. The same bridge which I always loved when I spent time in London playing at Wimbledon. It’s the bridge between the two cultures.

What was your experience like being the former CEO of National Geographic Films?

I had Hyde Park, which was my day job, but National Geographic had lost their CEO, and they offered me that position as well. It was a situation where National Geographic was reorganizing in many ways from a documentary company to trying to make feature films and developing content in many different ways, including when James Cameron went down to the Marianas Trench in his one-man sub, so it was a very exciting time. They’re such an extraordinary organization and that period was a wonderful experience.

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As you are the founder CEO and current chairperson of Hyde Park Entertainment Group what does the company mean to you?

I formed Hyde Park in 1999 so it’s now 23 years old. The 90’s had been very successful, and the purpose of Hyde Park was to build on the success and to partner with studios to control my own destiny to a greater point through Hyde Park. I had a deal with MGM Studios, which is what we call a first look deal, and I had a deal with Disney Studios as well. I was one of the only few producers who had a dual deal at the same time. I had this deal for seven years, followed by a deal with 20th Century Fox for the next five years. In breaking new ground for future Indians to follow were the studio deals and multiple major films, along with becoming, in 1992, the first Indian producer to be in the Academy of Motion Pictures.

Hyde Park was a place where I could build a library, finance movies myself, and own more of what I was doing. It has worked incredibly well and it’s one of the few independent companies of its size that remains standing. There are also not too many guys who’ve stayed the course over a 40-year period.

Companies get bought and sold all the time. I remain the sole founder and owner of Hyde Park Entertainment. It’s great to have that flexibility since one needs to be quite nimble these days. In our heart we love making content. That’s what we are great at.

So Hyde Park produces Film, TV, and now we’re taking a good look at some of the Asian local languages as well.

How did COVID-19 impact Hyde Park Entertainment?

We had a couple of movies that were planned, and the pandemic hit. To be honest I pulled back a little because people were being infected with Covid and there was so much insecurity with the way things were being done. Insurances were difficult and people were getting hurt. There were a lot of things going on in the world that I think were more important than the movie business that were on my mind.

We spent the time more on development of our next slate of product. Now we are into casting and we expect the end of this year and next year to be quite vibrant. We have a slate of about 24 projects that are in different stages.

How do you feel the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world of entertainment?

Those two years changed the world in general, but certainly the world of entertainment. It changed how movies are viewed and changed how people gather in the office. Just look at us! Before Covid, I did not know what Zoom was. Now it’s back to back. I just got off a casting call on Zoom. In many ways, it’s convenient to talk to actors and directors from different parts of the world without inconveniencing them too much, or myself. On the other hand, I’m old school, I like the human contact. I’m very much about that. So, I’ve gotten back to getting together with actors, directors, and friends. COVID has changed the world, but ultimately it’s how you get back into things again.

You’ve worked with many talented actors on many films throughout your career. What has been your most treasured memory thus far working in this industry?

That’s a tough one. You know every movie has a wonderful story. As I mentioned earlier, “Double Impact” was my first big movie and always has a treasured place. I loved making movies with Steve Martin. “Bringing Down the House” was great fun, and a big hit. And “Shopgirl” with Claire Danes and Steve Martin won a whole bunch of awards. I enjoyed making “Ghost Rider” with Marvel and Nic Cage, “Machete” with De Niro and Robert Rodriguez. It was great fun making “Walking Tall” with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, “Bandits” with Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett. There have been so many great experiences, it’s just been a wonderful ride.

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As you were one of the first South Asian producers in the 1980s how do you feel the landscape of Hollywood has changed for South Asians?

In the last five to seven years, everything that I hoped and worked towards making a reality, and the goals that I’ve had in trying to build out a multicultural company, diverse movies, etc. has happened. You look around and there are a lot of brown people in front of and behind the camera.

Studios and streamers have finally begun to understand how important diversity in movies is and this of course offers a great opportunity for brown talent. I hope I have played a role in making that happen.

The second generation of Indians are very talented actors, directors, agents, entertainment executives and much more. I never want to use the word easier, but it’s certainly wide open now, and I think it’s a much more level playing field.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Hyde Park Entertainment Asian Women Fellowship?

Hyde Park and Warner Music Group partnered to create two fellowships per year for female Asian writers and directors. This year Sari Arambulo was awarded the first fellowship and the second one is in process of being chosen. Sari is a wonderful multi hyphenate, writer, director, and actress. She’s writing a screenplay right now. An organization called Film Independent, which does the Independent Spirit Awards runs the search for us. It’s a global search, as well as the diaspora. We will be announcing the next winner this fall. The idea is to shine a spotlight on female filmmakers and writers, show the screenplay they’ve written, work with them on making the screenplay better and ultimately and hopefully they will be able to make their films. They would also have the opportunity to meet various executives and talent in town.

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Ultimately what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

When you look at what I have been able to do in the entertainment business it is a dream come true. No dream is too big, you just have to go for it. Whether it’s playing at Wimbledon or making movies in Hollywood you just go for it. It’s all about hard work and perseverance. If anybody tells you, it’s all about luck, that’s not true. There is always the element of luck but that comes at the end after you’re completely prepared. You’ve done all your homework, you have discipline, you’ve worked hard and then you wait for that break, right? Don’t just go out there and think it’s going to happen. I would hope that your readers understand the difficulty that one goes through, but at the same time have the self-confidence that you can attain that goal. Preparation, perseverance, and passion go hand in hand and that would be the message.

Photo Courtesy of Hyde Park Entertainment

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Pyar is Pyar: A Celebration of Queer Brown Love

An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.

The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.

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Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.


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Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.

“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”

“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.

Jain and Mehta are leading a legal effort to bring marriage equality to India, taking them to the country’s Supreme Court. The couple was denied recognition of their marriage in 2020, despite the country’s Foreign Marriage Act that allows the marriage of Indian citizens abroad to be recognized.

“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”

“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”

“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.

Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.

Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.

Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.

“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”

Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need. 

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“Your coming out in support of us is the pivotal shift that we need to change attitudes in our community,” she said.

Among the South Asian queer leaders and allies in attendance were actors Kal Penn and Sarita Choudhury, activist Alok Vaid-Menon, and the legendary DJ Rekha.

To learn more about Desi Rainbow, visit their website

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tedesco-Barker

By Stephen Jiwanmall

Born in Philadelphia, Stephen has family roots in India and Pakistan. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his husband and … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

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Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

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By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

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What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

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What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.


Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.


I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›