North Texas’ increasing ethnic diversity is gradually being reflected on the screens of Tarrant County’s multiplexes. AMC Grapevine Mills has done a prosperous business for the past five years by occasionally showing Korean films for the community of Korean émigrés in Grapevine. Recently, the Rave North East Mall theater has followed suit by showing Indian films.
Of course, India has a decades-long tradition of moviemaking, but in previous years, most films about Indian subjects that made it to our theaters were ones that appealed to Western audiences, whether they were about immigrant populations (Bend It Like Beckham), based on popular novels (Life of Pi), or riding a wave of critical praise (Slumdog Millionaire). The films at Rave, on the other hand, have been mostly dyed-in-the-wool Bollywood entries, stretching 150 minutes or more, often with an intermission, brimming with action sequences and musical numbers, devoid of any sex or kissing, and built around beautiful, charismatic stars.
The directive to show more Indian movies in Hurst started after the Rave chain was purchased by Cinemark Theatres, headquartered in Plano. The influx began in 2013 with the comedy Besharam. Since then, the theater has played two vehicles for the Bradley Cooper lookalike Hrithik Roshan (the superhero flick Krrish 3 and the spy thriller Bang! Bang!, a remake of the Tom Cruise movie Knight and Day) as well as the Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone caper film Happy New Year, which drew a packed house in October. In December, the theater showed Rajkumar Hirani’s PK, the record-breaking box-office hit (in India) whose comedy aimed some deft satire at religious intolerance in that multireligious country. All the films have been at least partially in Hindi, though some have also included dialogue in the languages of Telugu and Tamil.
As Cinemark’s marketing manager Frank Gonzales pointed out, India’s multiplicity of languages and the resulting proliferation of films performed in these different tongues can present a challenge when it comes to figuring out which movies will best move audiences in America.
Before this, North Texas audiences had to travel to Irving’s FunAsia to see such fare. The theater (part of an entertainment conglomerate that includes print and radio media as well as event planning) has been showing such films since 2002. For its part, Cinemark has been showing Indian films in theaters across the country for some years, including in Austin and Lubbock. “I think [the Indian movies have] done pretty well,” said Rave’s booking manager, Jordan Tangelo. “It’s definitely brought some more people here.”
The latest census figures put the Indian-American population of North Texas at more than 100,000, a figure that more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. Srinivas Gunukula, president of the India Association of North Texas, believes the numbers are much larger, perhaps as high as 300,000, because the population has exploded just in the last few years.
“Dallas-Fort Worth is vibrant, just like India,” he said. “The area has great weather and job opportunities, and you can fly back very easily from D/FW International Airport.”
More precise figures for the area have been hard to come by, because Indian-Americans tend to be lumped in with immigrants from eastern Asia under the category of Asian-Americans. Gunukula said that cultural events like films are crucial gathering points for people of Indian descent.
“Indian people are huge into films,” he said, though he said he wasn’t aware of the programming at the Rave. “In terms of culture, you can get almost everything you want here.”
The news isn’t so good for Spanish-speaking moviegoers: The Cinema Latino de Fort Worth closed its doors in December, citing a breakdown in negotiations with La Gran Plaza mall, where it was housed, over renewal of the lease. The theater was built in 1987 by the now-defunct General Cinema Corporation as part of what was then Town Center Mall. After passing through the hands of other chains, it stood empty for a number of years before the Denver-based chain Cinema Latino took over operations in 2003. Two years later, the theater reaped the benefits when Town Center was renovated and reopened as La Gran Plaza, catering to a Hispanic customer base.
“It made sense for us to move in,” said Louis Sullivan Olmos, CEO of Cinema Latino’s parent company, Sonora Entertainment Group. “We had been looking for a site in Dallas for many years, but that particular mall sits within a very strong Hispanic community.”
Audiences had remained steady at the theater up until the end, but the facility had not been updated since it was built. Sonora wanted to invest more than $600,000 to upgrade it, with new stadium-style seating and possibly a kitchen, as well as new carpeting and paint. Unfortunately, the particulars of the plan proved to be a sticking point with La Gran Plaza. “We just couldn’t come to terms on a longer-term lease,” Olmos said. “It wasn’t easy to walk away after 11 years.”
The management of La Gran Plaza declined to comment for this story.
The theater showed Spanish-language films from all over the Western hemisphere, but such films have never had trouble finding bookings in North Texas’ multiplexes, especially since American outfits like Pantelion Films (an offshoot of Lions Gate Films) have devoted themselves to developing entertainment for the Latino market. The real loss appears to be the screenings of Hollywood movies subtitled in Spanish.
“Everyone wants to participate in the mainstream,” Olmos said. “The commercial product is just as appealing to a Latino community as it is to an Anglo community.”
He said that Cinema Latino is planning to re-enter the North Texas market within the next year or two, and Fort Worth is a prime candidate for a new location.
“Dallas County is a unique and separate opportunity, but Tarrant County is more than big enough to support its own theater,” he said. “Ideally, we’d like to serve both, with an additional one in the middle, maybe in Arlington.”
In the meantime, Olmos is sanguine about the prospects for the theater that Cinema Latino left behind.
“It’s a good facility, and someone will find a way to operate in there,” he said. “There’s a bit of a void in the market, and someone will come in and service that market.”