Bollywood boom: OKC joins national trend of movie theaters showing films from India
Among the show times for the latest Marvel Studios superhero saga, Tyler Perry’s last Madea movie and the third animated “How to Train Your Dragon” adventure, some Oklahoma City theaters listed less-than-mainstream titles on a recent Friday.
There was the musical drama “Gully Boy,” a coming-of-age tale about an aspiring street rapper from Mumbai; the trilogy-capping “Total Dhamaal,” a star-studded adventure-comedy that has fared better with moviegoers than with film critics; and the Kannada-language “Yajamana,” an action vehicle for Darshan, one of India’s movie stars big enough to go by first name only.
Bollywood is doing booming business in North America these days, and the regularity of local listings like these shows that Oklahoma City cineplexes are partaking in a national trend of showcasing more films imported from India.
“We’re definitely seeing a demand for more Bollywood content in all of our markets, so we’re increasing the number of films shown. Just overall in general we’re finding that moviegoers are more interested than ever before in diversity in film, and definitely for Bollywood movies. They’ve just grown so rapidly over the past few years, and the demand wasn’t being met before. So, we want to make sure that we add that programming,” said Jessica Reeves, director of marketing for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Harkins Theatres, which operates OKC’s Bricktown movie house, along with theaters in Texas, Colorado, California and Arizona.
“A few years ago, you’d see that a hugely successful North American release of a Bollywood film was bringing in $5 million. And now you’re really seeing them exceeding $8 million, sometimes $10 million nationwide. So, it’s definitely grown quite a bit over the past few years.”
Breaking down Bollywood
Although the term often is misapplied to all Indian cinema, “Bollywood” refers to the Hindi-language film industry in the city of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay, which is where the “B” comes from in “Bollywood”). India boasts several regional film industries, each producing movies in a different language, including Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
While told from a distinctly Western perspective, British director Danny Boyle’s eight-time Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 gave many American film audiences their first exposure to some of the signature traits of Bollywood films: lavish song-and-dance numbers, melodramatic turns of events for characters and a mix of action, comedy and romance called “masala.”
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But Indian cinema is the world's largest film industry in terms of production, offering ample opportunities for American theaters to show work from the world’s second most populous country.
“We show the Bollywood films as often as we can get our hands on them. The release pattern of Bollywood films in the U.S. is a little different than a super-wide release of a traditional American film. Bollywood films are a little more selective in the number of theaters they play in. The more successful a theater becomes playing these films, the more films that theater will get to play,” said Bryan Jeffries, vice president of marketing/promotions for Plano, Texas-based Cinemark, which operates OKC’s Tinseltown theater, in an email.
“Because of the success of Bollywood films at the Cinemark Tinseltown theater, we are definitely getting more and more films to play for our guests.”
The burgeoning U.S. popularity of Indian cinema can be attributed not only to changing tastes among American moviegoers but also to the growing population of Americans with roots in India.
“Our research shows that Indian-Americans represent one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in North America in general. But we also know that the general consumer, they’re really looking for more diversity in film, from the central characters that are being shown in films all the way up to the filmmakers,” Reeves said in a phone interview.
“We’ve always been really well-known for art, independent and foreign films. That’s an important part of our company’s heritage and something that we really take a lot of pride in. So, in addition to attracting Bollywood (fans) and Indian-American guests for it, we think that our art and independent movie lovers are definitely interested in experiencing those different cultures and genres.”
The OKC response to the increased Indian film offerings has been exciting, Jeffries said.
“Our guests recognize the increased number of Bollywood titles and really come out and support them. … There is no doubt that the success of Bollywood films at the Tinseltown has introduced the theater to a wider number of guests who may not find anything they want to see in traditional films,” he said. “I think it’s important to play films for ALL audiences. Playing Bollywood films is really no different than playing a horror film for horror fans, or a documentary for documentary fans. It’s just another choice for a group of people looking for that specific type of film. It certainly sends a signal to the community that we know they are there and we want to provide the entertainment they are looking for.”
Adding Indian films to the slate also is part of the trend of theaters expanding their offerings beyond mainstream movies, Reeves said.
“We really love to eventize the moviegoing experience, whether it's special events inside of the theaters or hosting unique content. We’re showing sports on the big screen, concerts on the big screen, Bollywood films … and of course art and independent films. We’re really looking to add unique and fun programming,” she said.
“We’ve had a lot of great feedback whether it’s from guests in the theater or on social media, and as the word gets out more and more about our Bollywood offerings, we’ve seen increasing interest. … We definitely to expect to see the interest continue to grow.”
Here are some of the anticipated Indian films expected in theaters in 2019:
• “Kalank” (April): An epic drama set in the 1940s.
• “Baharat” (June): A remake of the 2014 Korean film “Ode to My Father.”
• “Mission Mangal” (August): Based on true events, it’s billed as India’s first space movie.
• “Taanaji: The Unsung Warrior” (November): An action vehicle for Hindi cinema star Ajay Devgn.
• “Brahmastra” (December): The first installment of a superhero trilogy.