Hemanth Kumar Teegala, who books Indian films at the Market Square Theatre, says he hasn't seen the Oscar-nominated Slumdog Millionaire yet. Still, he was already feeling proud and sure that its success would help the Indian film market worldwide.
Though it has that cool Bollywood-style ending, Slumdog isn't a Bollywood film -- it's actually a British production directed by Danny Boyle -- but it was based on the novel Q and A by Indian writer and diplomat Vikas Swarup, it was shot in Mumbai, and many of the cast and crew members are from India. Teegala has seen The Namesake and The Darjeeling Limited -- two other recent mainstream films set in India -- and has high regards for each in terms of their showcasing aspects of Indian life to movie-goers.
So chances are you've heard of it and maybe you've even seen a flick or a clip on YouTube, but what exactly is Bollywood?
Here's a primer. The term Bollywood refers to films made in Mumbai -- a play on words of Mumbai's former name Bombay and, of course, a nod to the Los Angeles film industry. Tollywood films, meanwhile, are shot in Telugu, a regional language spoken primarily southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Teegala, a member of the Telugu community here in Madison, adds that many people don't realize that the Telugu movie industry actually makes more films than Bollywood.
Teegala, who works at American Family Insurance, has been booking Indian films in Madison since 2006. His inspiration was nothing other than a love of Indian movies. "It started with passion and became a part of my life," he says. He had been driving down to Chicago to see these films until one day it hit him, maybe he could bring these films to the Madison area.
Teegala called a friend who had been showing Indian movies in Milwaukee and made the decision to give it a try as a service to the Indian community in Madison. Things got off to a slow start, but now, business is steady. In fact, the private exhibitor has expanded his services and now shows films in Milwaukee, Appleton, and a couple of cities in Illinois. Teegala also now has contacts with major Indian movie distributors in the U.S., so he can release movies here in Madison on the same day they come out in India.
When asked what draws American audiences to Indian films, Teegala admits that's a tough question. "Indian movies are unique," he says. "It is an eye feast watching them -- you can see songs, dances, action, sentiment and [the] Indian way of living. I think Indian movies are the only movies where you can see hero and heroine dancing around the bushes . . . though it looks funny sometimes . . . the ultimate goal [of these films] is entertainment."
While Teegala screens films in Telugu and Tamil languages, it's the Hindi films that get the biggest turnouts. He sees a lot of what he calls the "South Asian crowd" for these movies and, in recent years, has noticed a lot more people outside of South Asian communities coming to see them. Teegala explains this popularity succinctly; of the films he screens, the ones in Hindi are the only ones subtitled in English.
No matter who is in the audience, it's always a good time, declares Teegala. "The atmosphere is always electrifying," he says. "People really enjoy the show and it is a good place to meet other friends, too."
This weekend, Teegala is bringing Delhi-6 to Madison for a screening at Market Square. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, it tells the story of an American-born man who returns to India with his sick grandmother for a quick visit that turns into a journey of self-discovery. Here is a music video trailer for the film, set to a song by now Academy Award-nominated composer and producer A.R. Rahman.
Delhi-6 is in Hindi with English subtitles. The movie premieres in New Delhli on Thursday, and will screen in Madison at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, February 20 and at 11 a.m. on Sunday, February 22 at Market Square Theatre, located at 6604 Odana Road. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, and can be purchased at the theater, at local Indian groceries, and online. More information about local Indian cinema screenings can be found at Ticket Mahal and MadIndians.com.