New Jersey is an important market for the inaugural Best of Bollywood film series by Fathom Events this summer.
The Denver-based event cinema company known for live-streaming performances and showing classics in cinemas across the country believes the growing Indian cinema viewership can mean a new line of business.
“We have been monitoring the Indian film industry for some time,” said Tom Lucas, vice president of studio relations for Fathom.
The Indian film industry fits all the criteria Fathom has looked for when serving the American audience for its Turner Classic Movies series, and believes Bollywood has a strong enough base to succeed.
There are several positive trends, Lucas said.
“The growing Asian Indian population in the U.S., the fact that there is a growing number in quantity and quality in films being produce in India, Indian-Americans are very heavy consumers of entertainment,” he said.
Most recently, the power of the Indian film industry was felt by the success of a regional Indian film, “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.”
National media reports were surprised by its success, ranking third in box office sales nationally, and focused on the growth in H-1B visas as a factor.
But cinema experts in the U.S. agree that Bollywood’s success in the past two decades set the stage for “Baahubali’s” success.
Tejaswini Ganti, an associate professor at New York University, said that, since 1999, she’s seen headlines periodically tout a sudden awareness of Bollywood in the U.S.
“It’s already part of the lexicon,” she said. “Bollywood, here, means everything Indian.”
The U.S. media calls it the highest-producing industry in the world — a statistic that actually covers the production from regional cinemas as well, Ganti explained.
Which is why, whether it is Bhangra or classical fusion, the U.S. has embraced the music and dance as a single genre called Bollywood, as evidenced in the show “So You Think You Can Dance,” Ganti said.
According to Meheli Sen, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, its widespread success is because of the backing of Bollywood power house Dharma Productions.
“The fact that Karan Johar (Dharma Productions) distributed the Hindi version has had an enormous impact,” Sen said. “He’s a really hard-nosed businessman. So even before the first ‘Baahubali’ film came out, he saw the potential for it to be the success that it is.”
Dharma Productions is one of the major production companies in India. Two other giants, Eros International and Yash Raj Films, both based in Mumbai, have presences in Secaucus and Long Island City, respectively.
The latter two are working with Fathom Events for the Bollywood series, which kicks off in July with Eros’s “Devdas.”
Lucas said the box office sales and being critically acclaimed, paired with positive demographic trends, are what qualified “Devdas” for the list.
Fathom aims to evoke nostalgia through its classic series with TCM, and the same applies for the Bollywood series. Many first-generation immigrants view the cinema industry as a way to connect to their former home.
The New Jersey market is a key market, with 10 of the more than 150 theaters where “Devdas” will screen.
Theaters chosen for the event are those where Indian movies have had success, Lucas said.
Though theater companies like AMC declined to discuss market-specific success of Indian films, the list provided by Fathom sheds some light.
“Devdas” will be screened at AMC theaters in Elizabeth, Hamilton, New Brunswick, Voorhees and Wayne, Cinemark in Hazlet, and Regal Cinemas in Burlington, Mays Landing, North Brunswick and South Plainfield.
“The Indian market is the best to start with for foreign production sources because it is so prolific in movies and have high quality,” Lucas said, adding that it may just be the first foreign film industry Fathom dabbles in.
“The truth of the matter is, no one has really done this with Indian films and classic titles. We don’t know how big it will be yet,” he said. “We don’t start assuming everyone is going to want to go to these ... we start in-market with a base.”
And hopefully, word of mouth will help move the series forward for another year, Lucas said.
But how does it hope to attract an audience for a film that is 15 years old and available on many video platforms?
“That was the first hurdle we went into when talking to the U.S. studios,” Lucas said, adding that not only were they available online, many individuals owned physical copies.
The key is to pick films that do justice to the size of a theater screen, as well as adding new content and never-seen-before clips.
That’s the hook, Lucas said.