Maybe you get to see the sunrise later than those living in the East, but not the Indian movies. Watching them much earlier than those waiting for the first day, first show in India is now a favorite pass time for the Indian immigrants living in the West. Social media posting to confirm that ‘we saw it earlier than you did’ is the new fad, and helping them do this is the steady rise in the number of Indian movies screened in the theatres in the US.
Hardly a weekend passes without an Indian movie being screened the US theatres. To find six to eight Indian movies listed next to Hollywood names on the display screens at the theatres kicks in a sense of prestige and pride. To see Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi and other Indian language movies in the same theatre is a rare scene even in India.
This was not how it was some years ago. “Earlier, the number of movies screened would average around two to three a month. But now we do have times where we screen five to six Indian movies per week. Also, it used to be movies just Hindi, Telugu or Tamil languages, but now we see Kannada, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Guajarati and more getting added to the list,” said Edwin Grion, manager, Columbia Park 12 theatre in New Jersey, adding that these movies run for at least two weeks on an average.
Along with the rising number of releases, the habit of going to theatres to watch Indian movies is picking up. While movies are released during the weekend in India, they hit the US screens the previous day, enabling the immigrants to watch them much ahead of the Indian audience.
Though they are released in the middle of the week, like Thursday or Wednesday afternoon, people take off from work to watch them on the big screen. The selfie traffic in the theatres is yet another interesting sight, and the movie maniacs feel that the thrill of uploading minute by minute comments on social media is worth the dollars spent.
The Indian movies are always priced higher than Hollywood movies – the average movie ticket is priced at $12, but those starring big names sell anywhere from $25 to $40. But the increased number of releases makes ticket prices competitive. Also, there are always periodic offers and promotions like buy one, get one that lure movie lovers to the theatres.
It should, however, be noted that only movies starring established and popular actors are screened in these shores, as their hardcore fans do everything to watch these in theatres.
There are around 6,000 theatres with 40,000 screens in the US. The most popular movies would be screened in around 300 theatres at a time. Edwin observed that except for Hindi movies, there are few crossover audiences for other language releases, noting that people prefer to watch movies in the language spoken at home. Generally, Telugu movies seem to attract more crowd than even the Hindi ones.
Even rarer are crossover of Western audience, especially with the Indian movies remaining much longer than an average Hollywood film and are also high on emotion and sentiments. But when movies like Bahubali, Slumdog Millionaire and Hotel Mumbai were screened, even Western audience turned up at the theatres to watch these.
Much of the changes were ushered in by digitisation, which has eased the distribution bottlenecks. Earlier, having to transport the box of reels physically limited the number of movies that could be screened. “In those days, we used to watch a maximum of two Indian movies in a year,” said Ravi Raju, who moved into the US in the seventies.
“When we moved 10 years ago, not many Indian movies were screened. There were also limited online options. The lack of reliable and affordable internet connection restricted our scope to watch movies online. We used to rent VCR tapes from public libraries,” recalled Senthil Raj from New Jersey.
“Even today, we do not get to watch all of what is released in Indian theatres. For instance, the much talked about Tamil movie Pariyrum Perumal was not screened here, though there was widespread interest. To make it all good, Qube Cinema is coming out with an initiative to enable the Tugg platform for Indian cinemas. This will be launched next month,” said Rajesh Ramachandran, President and CTO, Qube Cinema from Los Angeles.
Under this, anyone can use Tugg to list their interest to watch a particular movie guaranteeing a minimum number of attendees and their request for a show will be organised. You could thus screen and watch classic movies of your choice, even old ones, said Rajesh.
Nothing can beat the fun of eating the salted popcorn and refilling the tub while enjoying the Indian movie for full three hours on a reclining seat in theatres. Who cares if it is the US theatres, making those loud noises and the naughty whistle add to the fun.
Sure, the theatre owners are getting used to the cacophony that is part of the Indian style of movie watching. But if you are waiting for the interval to meet your pals at the lobby, do you know that the US theatres do not stop for an intermission. And there could also be times when you are all alone in the theatre!
— The writer is a journalist based in New York