Bollywood comes to Beaverton
Beaverton businessman brings a taste of home to fellow Indians
The theater lobby has a buttered popcorn scent intermingled with a spicier, more pungent aroma atypical of most movie theaters.
The scent - a blend of samosas and pokoras, fried snacks served with the option of mint or tamarind sauce - hint at a different kind of movie-going experience. The occasion is two matinee screenings of Bollywood and Tollywood films.
And no, that is not a typo of the word 'Hollywood.' Bollywood is the nickname given to Hindi-language films, and Tollywood films are from a smaller film industry in south India.
Last weekend, the theater screened two films - 'Race,' a broadly appealing Hindi film about two brothers racing to win at a game of double-crossing, and 'Jalsa,' a Telugu-language film about a man who gets a second chance at love while the skeletons in his closet threaten to undo the romance, (technically a Tollywood film).
The film and food were hosted by Ravi Dangeti, a Beaverton resident and the owner of Mayuri Indian Restaurant on the corner of Walker Road and 158th Avenue.
Dangeti selects the films, which are recent releases, through distribution companies and books the screenings with Robert Perkins, also of Beaverton, who owns Cornelius 9 Cinemas.
'At first, I didn't think they would actually work very well,' said Perkins. 'But more and more we do them because they do seem to work very well. The crowds that follow them are a loyal following.'
Dangeti, who originally moved to the U.S. in 1999 to work for high-tech companies, is the only person in Portland acting as an exhibitor and doing local promotion for the films. He aims to provide Indian entertainment and culture for the expatriates who live and work in the Portland area. 'Our main ambition is to build a dedicated theater for Indian films,' he said. 'If a theater is built for Indian films, it will also draw Americans.'
Then films - like 'Race,' which grossed $800,000 on U.S. screens over its March 23 opening weekend - could run for weeks, with multiple screenings each day.
For now, though, that dream is a ways off - so Dangeti turns to Cornelius 9 Cinemas or other local independent theaters, such as Valley Theater on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.
Beaverton's Indian influx
Dangeti described Beaverton as 'an Indian hub,' explaining that many Indians work for big companies like Intel, Hewlett-Packard or Nike and prefer to live near the Elmonica MAX station for commuting purposes. Dangeti estimates that there are 8,000 to 10,000 Indians living in Washington County, mostly in the Beaverton and Hillsboro areas.
In order to attract some of that population, all Perkins does is list the films alongside Hollywood films - like the current releases 'Leatherheads' or '21' - doing no additional advertising for the foreign films.
Instead Dangeti blankets the Indian community with promotion materials, hanging posters at Indian grocery stores, sending out customer e-mails and posting the screenings on www.indogram.com, a site for the greater Indian community in the U.S.
So, while the indigenous American community has remained relatively unaware of the unique opportunity to see Bollywood films on the big screen, Indian expatriates can become engrossed in the same films that fans back in India are raving about.
Bling and plot twists
The stadium seating at the 3:30 p.m. screening of 'Race' last Saturday was sprinkled with couples, small groups of young, single friends and even families.
Indian films are, in Dangeti's opinion, family-friendly. Traditionally, a Bollywood film is made for a broad audience with the whole family in mind. Veteran film director Yash Chopra told National Geographic in 2005 that he won't allow kissing in his films. 'If a boy loves a girl in India,' he says, 'they feel shy of kissing in public.'
That, however, wasn't true of 'Race,' which seemed more like an amalgam of traditional Bollywood elements - emotional, romanticized song and dance - and Hollywood elements: a lot of bling, a lot of skin and a number of plot twists.
The film took place in South Africa and told the story of two brothers who use women, deceit and (in the end) cars to try to wrest the family horse racing fortune out of the hands of the other.
If anything, the film is a testament to globalization and the borrowing of culture. Although the film is subtitled in English, the dialogue is already a mix of Hindi and English (kind of like Spanglish), so the plot is pretty easy to follow for English-speaking Americans.
Friends Archana Pottabathini, who is from south India, and Pooja Neema, from north India, see a lot of movies - both Hollywood and Bollywood.
'I give it an eight out of 10. So many surprises,' said Pottabathini.
Neema agreed. 'Nice songs. Nice concept. Very intelligent,' she said.
The young women have been living in Beaverton for almost five years and work in downtown Portland. Bollywood movies give them 'that India feel,' said Pottabathini.
They hope that the next Saif Ali Khan (the younger brother in 'Race') movie, 'Tashan,' will come to Cornelius, too.
Hollywood goes Bollywood
The differences between Hollywood and Bollywood are pretty significant. Bollywood films are at least three hours long, with a 20-minute intermission, and they are always musicals.
But films like 'Race,' which seemed intended to have international appeal, are not the only ones doing the borrowing - the trading of culture is a two-lane highway.
Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann ('Strictly Ballroom,' 'Romeo and Juliet') fashioned the Oscar-winning Best Picture 'Moulin Rouge' after being inspired by a Bollywood movie.
When Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spontaneously break into a fervent song and dancers spontaneously appear in the scene out of nowhere, viewers are getting a dash of Bollywood flavor.