March 1, 2010

Bollywood films quietly attracting crowds


The movies smash box office records around the world. The songs on the soundtracks top the pop charts. The stars are recognized everywhere they go, and are thought of not just as movie stars, but “heroes.”

But can Bollywood make it in America?

After “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Mumbai-set romantic drama from British director Danny Boyle, won the Academy Award for Best Picture a year ago, many moviegoers thought its success would usher in a wave of Indian films into American theaters.

Poised to capitalize on that attention was Bollywood, a nickname (combining Hollywood and Bombay) for the Hindi-language film industry in India. The movies tend to be long, melodramatic epics that mix romance, comedy, intrigue, action, and most memorably, show-stopping musical numbers.

“The idea is that you have to some way make a film that appeals to my 90-year-old grandmother and to the 9-year-old kid,” Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan told National Public Radio recently. Khan is the biggest movie star in India, which, since India has a population of over a billion people, makes him the biggest movie star in the world.

A year later, the picture for Bollywood in America isn’t so clear. Only a handful of Bollywood movies have made it to American screens, where they’ve tended to open and close quietly in theaters without much fanfare.

The comedy “3 Idiots” became the highest grossing Bollywood film of all time last year, making the equivalent of $70 million in its first 18 days of release. But in Madison, “3 Idiots” opened quietly at Point Cinemas in January and only played for a couple of weeks.

Marcus spokesman Carlo Petrick said he’s seen Bollywood films make some small inroads into American theaters. But audiences are more likely to see films like “Slumdog Millionare” that are generated by U.S. and British movie studios.

“I think Bollywood films are becoming a little more mainstream than they had in the past,” Petrick said. “There does seem to be a resurgence lately in the films that have at least had an Indian theme. We’ve seen ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ and ‘The Namesake.’”

The latest and biggest attempt for a Bollywood film to break into the U.S. market is “My Name is Khan,” which features Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Khan plays a Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome who lives in San Francisco, and, after he’s mistaken for a terrorist by the Department of Homeland Security, wanders the country helping people.

The film is being distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, which also released “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Crazy Heart,” and opened on 120 screens nationwide when it opened on Feb. 18. It’s currently playing in Milwaukee, and although a Madison date has not yet been set, it’s getting good reviews and seems poised for a nationwide rollout.

But the question remains whether “Khan” can attract a crossover audience or will come and go with barely a ripple like “3 Idiots” did.

Ironically, Indian films do play in Madison theaters almost every weekend to packed houses. Local distributors like Nemanth Teegala rents out theaters at Market Square and Sundance Cinemas for special one-time only showings of Bollywood films.

The films are sent out by a private distributor in New York City to 40-50 cities including Madison. Teegala markets directly to those in the local Indian community, putting up posters at Indian grocery stores and ads on Web sites like He said Indian audiences respond to the unique cultural values of the films; for example, in nearly every Bollywood film, the hero’s mother plays a key role.

“You can see a little bit of Indian traditional values, the costumes are more colorful,” Teegala said of the films in 2008. “It’s more like a drama.”

Such screenings operate completely under the radar of the rest of Madison’s filmgoing community. The Indian movies aren’t even listed as part of the theater’s movie listings.

“These are rarely marketed to anybody outside of Madison’s Hindi community,” said Wisconsin Film Festival director Meg Hamel. “We’ve had the chance to see many of these films the day that they open in India. The folks that are showing those films really are looking at the ethnic population in Madison to market to.”

Hamel occasionally books Bollywood films as part of the film festival and has had some success at it. Last year, over 300 people came to see “Ghajini,” described as a Bollywood remake of the twisty thriller “Memento,” even though the three-hour film didn’t start until 10:30 p.m. at night. The reaction was wildly positive.

“Though American audiences won’t be used to the genre switching, it’s part of what sustains the momentum,” reviewer Rick Stemm wrote on the Web site after the screening. “Extremely high production values give this the look of a Hollywood blockbuster, though its feel is all its own.”

Part of what made the “Ghajini” screening a success, Hamel said, is that it had an advocate for it in the film festival, which gave curious audiences a sense of what they were getting themselves into. Bollywood films aren’t like American films, and many American moviegoers might be confused if they walk in cold to a Bollywood movie that’s showing at a multiplex like Point.

“What I think that could make or break a film in Madison applies to everything,” Hamel said. “At the Wisconsin Film Festival, somebody’s made the effort to say ‘I like this movie, I think you’ll like it too.’ If local movie theaters made that same effort, they would be able to fill their screens with all kinds of films and not rely on studio blockbusters.”

Read more HERE.


Pardesi said...

Some Tweets from Shekhar Kapoor on MNIK:


gd, morning. how many saw My Name is Khan ?
14 minutes ago via web


I admired karan johar's attempt at such a brave topic, and I thought SRK was pretty good in the film
9 minutes ago via web


last night walked past a london theatre and saw that it was still running in the west end with 3 star reviews and felt proud
7 minutes ago via web


I hope after this film karan and srk continue to make attempts to explore subjects beyond bollywood.
2 minutes ago via web

Pardesi said...

And two more interesting ones - very precise and honest!


so most ppl thought it lacked entertainmnt, bt is srk stuck then ? will he never be allowed to try something different?
about 8 hours ago via web


my opinion ? other than the floods seq and a melodrama around death of kajol's son, I thought the movie was diff, brave and good.
about 8 hours ago via web

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