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Where to See Indian Films in the Bay Area

Updated: Feb 18, 2019 12:09
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Some Indian Films in the Bay Area

Guest Post by Peter Wong

Our earlier guide to theatrical screenings of Asian films in the S.F. Bay Area omitted a mention of the Cine Lounge Fremont 7.  Sharp-eyed reader Jen Young had good reason to call the theater her go-to place for watching Indian Films in the Bay Area. Why the love for this Fremont venue is well deserved will be explained later.

Young’s mention sparked a couple of questions. Just how many S.F. Bay Area theaters show Bollywood films?  Equally importantly, is Bollywood all there is to the world of Indian film?

To answer the second question first, Indian films are generally classified as either masalas or hatkes. The masalas are the crowd-pleasers most Western audiences associate with Indian film. These films are spectacles for the masses featuring big stars such as Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan. Lots of singing and dancing plus a run time between two and three hours are characteristics of these films. A small group of film families generally spend between $15-30 million a film to make a typical masala.  Examples are the tale of a dead woman’s daughter asked to play matchmaker between her widower father and his best friend from college (“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something…Something Happens)”), a historical action epic about a king’s son avenging his father’s murder after learning of his uncle’s treachery (“Baahubali 2: The Conclusion”),  and a classic tale of two secret lovers who may be forced to sacrifice their love for the sake of their families “Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (Who Am I To You?)

The masala classic Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something…Something Happens)

The Bollywood label applies to masalas made with a Hindi dialogue soundtrack. When such crowd-pleasers are scored with a different language soundtrack, the provenance changes accordingly. So depending on the new dubbed language, the resulting film could be considered part of Kollywood (Tamil), Tollywood (Telugu), or Mollywood (Malayalam).

A newer phenomenon seen over the last dozen years or so is the rise of hatke (oddball or different depending on the translator’s interpretation) Indian films. These films have very little singing or dancing. Also, their run time is generally less than two hours. The closest American equivalent might be an independent film aimed towards a more middle class audience. In a hatke film, plot matters more, no stars are involved, and they generally cost $2.5 million to make. Examples of such films include a truly epic crime drama stretching over eight decades in a Northeast Indian coal mining town (“Gangs Of Wasseypur”), a farmer’s threatened suicide becoming a news story which endangers the local political power structure (“Peepli Live”), a story set in Bombay’s trashy thriller/softcore porn industry (“Miss Lovely”), and three interconnected tales of honor killings, an MMS scandal, and a sting operation told via digital cameras (“Love Sex aur Dhoka”).

Epic hatke movie Gangs Of Wasseypur

Toe-Dipping Theatres for Indian films in the Bay Area

Readers interested in plunging into the world of Indian films in the Bay Area have two paths to theatrical immersion. The “toe-dipping theatres” are venues that devote one or two screens to Indian films. On one hand, the newbie viewer won’t be overwhelmed by not knowing what film to choose. On the other hand, if the theatre’s showing a turkey, the experience could put the newbie off delving further into Indian cinema.

AMC Theater chain patrons looking for venues showing just one or two Indian films should try San Francisco’s AMC Metreon 16 or the AMC Manteca 16.

The Cinemark chain offers more opportunities for Indian film toe-dipping. Fans of the chain can try the Century San Francisco Centre 9, the Century 20 Daly City, Century at Tanforan, Fremont’s Century at Pacific Commons, Mountain View’s Century Cinema 16, or Richmond’s Century Hilltop 16.

The Deep End Theatres for Indian films in the Bay Area

With the deep end theatres, the interested Indian film viewer has an embarrassment of riches. Depending on the theater, the same film can be shown in two different languages. Or else the venue offers more than just the big blockbusters.  Then again, increased options doesn’t necessarily guarantee all the films being shown are of increased quality.

The AMC chain’s big local screening venue for Indian films in the Bay Area is Santa Clara’s AMC Mercado 20; at least three Indian films can be found playing here at any one time. Given that the theater devotes over a third of its screens to films from Asia, you might expect more. But a recent schedule breakdown showed that the Mercado had three Indian films, three Chinese films, and a couple of Korean films. “Extreme Job,” one of the Korean films being shown, is a remake of the Chinese comedy “Lobster Cop” with the undercover cops being Korean fried chicken cooks this time around.

Cinemark offers slightly more venues for immersion into Indian films in the Bay Area. Milpitas’ Century 20 Great Mall devotes at least three screens to Indian movies. Cinemark’s answer to the Mercado is Union City’s Century 25 Union Landing. A recent schedule showed eight different Indian films playing, with a couple having both Tamil, Telugu, or Malayalam soundtracks.

Another great hatke movie Love Sex aur Dhoka

Dublin’s Regal Hacienda Crossings Stadium 20 may be the Regal chain’s only location for Indian films in the Bay Area.  But the venue has ways to make up for this shortage. For example, it screened seven first-run Indian films in one week.

Smaller theaters may have fewer screens available for Indian films. Fortunately, they offer other compensatory pleasures. San Jose’s Towne 3 Cinemas may have just three screens to work with. However, very creative scheduling allows the venue to show as many as nine different Indian feature films in the space of one week. 8K Cinemas Milpitas offer screenings in Kannada, Marathi, & Telugu.

Non-chain Indian film heaven, though, can be found at the aforementioned Cine Lounge Fremont 7.  Long-time East Bay Indian film lovers will recognize the venue’s location as the spot formerly occupied by the old Naz 8 Cinemas.  That much missed multiplex was the Bay Area’s previous cinematic temple to Indian film.

A look at the Cine Lounge’s current schedule shows at least half-a-dozen Indian films in Hindi, Telugu, and Kannada.  Current and upcoming offerings include a horror comedy tale about a wastrel who falls in love with a woman with a mysterious background (Dhilliku Dhuddu 2) or a drama centered on the relatively new phenomenon of Indian Hip Hop (Gully Boy).  A screen is even saved for a non-Indian Asian film such as the Chinese science fiction blockbuster “The Wandering Earth.”

After seeing all these venues for showing Indian films, this American fan of films from other Asian countries feels jealous at the current lack of a Chinese or Japanese equivalent to the Cine Lounge Fremont 7.  One can only hope this situation will change.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.