India is the home to 1.2 billion people, the world’s largest democracy, and the world’s largest film industry, widely known as Bollywood. Cinema is one of India’s most pervasive cultural exports, and Bollywood is reaching bigger and bigger audiences in the U.S. and in North Texas, which has become one of the biggest markets for Indian films in the country.
The word “Bollywood” conjures up images of spectacular scenery, with a hero and heroine wearing brightly colored clothing while singing and performing choreographed dance moves. Indian cinema has been described as a form of escapism tailored towards the masses. Bollywood biographer and economist Meghnad Desai has said, “Cinema actually has been the most vibrant medium for telling India its own story, the story of its struggle for independence, its constant struggle to achieve national integration and to emerge as a global presence.”
Bollywood is evolving as a large Indian diaspora has moved to various English-speaking countries. The South Asian population in North Texas has been booming for decades. Western influence has seeped into the way Bollywood films are being produced and told, just as more Western films show the influence of Bollywood.
Bollywood’s influence is clear in American television and film, including shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent, and in movies like Pitch Perfect 2.
FunAsiA is a radio show with more than half a million listeners, doubling as an online platform to stream Bollywood music. FunAsiA also operates a movie theater in Richardson and rents four to six screens at the Hollywood Macarthur Marketplace 16 theater in Irving, where Indian snacks are offered to provide the full experience.
Shariq Hamid, co-founder and COO of FunAsiA, says the Irving location is one of the top five highest-grossing theaters in the country for Bollywood movies. On average, Bollywood films shown in North Texas make almost twice as much as in other theaters around the U.S., Hamid says.
Texas is the third largest market for Bollywood films in the country (after New Jersey and California), and North Texas is the epicenter for Indian cinema in the state, says Sumit Chadha, U.S. head of Reliance Entertainment, the Indian media group and film distributor. Cities like Irving, Plano, and Arlington have a huge following for not only Hindi-language films, but for movies in regional languages like Tamil and Telugu, Chadha says.
Bollywood and its distributors are realizing the impact Texas has on overall U.S. sales and are taking notice of demand in North Texas. In the past, Bollywood press tours have exclusively visited the larger metropolises, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. That’s changing. A press tour for the film Shivaay, a likely hit whose trailer has been viewed more than 22 million times, stopped in Dallas last month with two of Bollywood’s biggest stars, proving that North Texas has become a market the Indian film industry cannot ignore.
Major theater chains have taken notice of the audience for Indian film in Texas, devoting the occasional screen to some of the biggest South Asian films being released in the U.S.. The AMC Stonebriar in Frisco, and Cinemark theaters in Garland, Lewisville, Grapevine, and Plano, are among theaters showing Bollywood movies and more.
Bryan Jeffries, marketing director for Cinemark USA, says the company has seen the Dallas-Fort Worth area become one of the key markets for South Asian films in the U.S.
“We play a very diverse slate of Indian films all over the DFW metropolis ranging from Hindi language Bollywood films as well as regional Tamil and Telugu language Tollywood films,” Jeffries says.
Another indication of the growing interest in and influence of South Asian cinema is the launch of the DFW South Asian Film Festival in 2015. The festival is known for focusing primarily on South Asian independent cinema, going beyond the splashy Bollywood pictures many think of.
The DFW South Asian Film Festival has also helped bring in a wider audience looking to learn more about the diverse and enriching culture of South Asian cinema. Jitin Hingorani, the founder and director of SAFF, estimates that 16 percent of the festival’s audience was non-South Asian the first year of the festival, with that number jumping to 21 percent the next year.
The Indian film industry is drawing immense interest from around the world, and for good reason — everyone needs a little masala entertainment in their lives.