Foreign films serve audience hungry for a taste of home

In a remake of a 1990s blockbuster, a man (played by a box-office superstar) vows vengeance against the villain who killed his father.

Hollywood’s latest? no, Bollywood’s.

“Agneepath,” featuring award-winning actor Hrithik Roshan, opens today, India’s Republic Day holiday, in both Indian and U.S. theaters — including Las Vegas’ Village Square 18.

The movie’s arrival reflects the growing number of foreign-language movies now playing at a theater near you.

Not to be confused with arty foreign-language entries that dominate the Academy Awards, these movies cater to growing Filipino, Indian and Spanish-speaking audiences eager for a cinematic taste of home.

From the Mexican comedy “Saving Private Perez” to the Filipino heart-tugger “A Mother’s story,” these releases serve viewers who previously had little opportunity to enjoy movies from other parts of the world, explains Regal Cinemas Vice President Paul Serwitz, who books Village Square’s CinemaArt titles.

Distributors “have found ways to tap into the audience,” notes Serwitz. “It’s a good thing.”

For theater owners, it’s also a chance for them to serve “the underserved niche market,” according to Frank Gonzales , marketing manager for Cinemark — which operates Southern Nevada’s Century Theatres.

Century’s Sam’s Town location, for example, is trying to establish an ongoing selection of Indian movies — in Telugu , the language spoken in India’s Andhra Pradesh and neighboring states. (Releases in Telugu are known by the descriptive nickname “Tollywood” — to distinguish them from India’s “Bollywood” output — in Hindi.)

“It’s a work in progress,” Gonzales says of the program, on Sam’s Town’s specialty CineArts screens. “We’re trying to build it up.”

For local Filipino movie buffs, no such buildup is necessary at Village Square, which has been home to their direct-from-the-Philippines favorites for several years.

Last Friday, for example, audiences flocked to the theater to catch an opening-day show of the latest ABS-CBN Star Cinema release, the fantasy comedy “Enteng ng Ina Mo,” which teams popular stars Vic Sotto and Ai-Ai delas Alas .

“It’s a comedy, so the kids love it,” notes Judi Raneses , 45, a 15-year Las Vegas resident who attended with her mother and 11- and 7-year-old children.

Across the aisle, Todd Swinehart and Jocelyn Lee, both 31, munched popcorn while awaiting the start of the movie.

She’s from the Philippines and speaks Tagalog; he doesn’t, but “I like ’em,” he says of the Filipino movies, which are not subtitled but usually mix a sprinkling of English into the Tagalog dialogue. “The stories tend to be similar.”

After all, slapstick comedy and magic spells — both of which “Enteng ng Ina Mo” has in abundance — require no translation.

Comedies, dramas and romances do particularly well among Filipino audiences, according to Leylanie go, a marketing specialist with ABS-CBN International’s Theatricals Unit.

And while “it’s not always smooth sailing,” with some movies proving more popular than others, “the support of the Las Vegas community has been overwhelming,” go says — even during the economic downturn of recent years.

ABS-CBN “has made a science of marketing and distribution,” according to Regal’s Serwitz, noting that the company rents the theater and generates a fair amount of revenue through the exclusive runs.

“They get a hundred percent of the box office,” he says, “and there are times I wish (Regal) had a percentage.”

ABS-CBN’s Filipino movies pioneered the local foreign-language trend, but Bollywood releases are “the most mushrooming of all,” Serwitz says. “It’s a huge business that’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Locally, Bollywood — and Tollywood — fans have more opportunities to see new movies than ever before.

In addition to Village Square and Sam’s Town, Rave’s Town Square multiplex also has played Indian movies recently.

And the Palms’ Brenden Theatres used to show Bollywood features, complete with samosas at the snack bar, but “it’s one of those things you’ve got to be consistently doing” to build an audience, says Josh Threatt , general manager of Brenden’s Palms multiplex.

Before area theaters began showing Bollywood features, local Indian organizations would “rent a hall” once or twice a year to show Indian movies, recalls Swadeep Nigam , 52, who has lived in Las Vegas for more than 25 years.

These days, however, the local Indian community is large enough to support standard theatrical runs of Bollywood features.

Many fans watch movies on cable TV and on DVD, of course, but “it’s a good thing to get out once in a while,” Nigam says.

When Bollywood fan Rucha Palherkar , 38, went to see the recent comedy “Rockstar ” at Town Square, “it was really interesting for me, seeing non-Indians watching an Indian movie,” she says.

And though “they were enjoying the movie,” she says, “I don’t know if they would get the lyrics of the Indian songs” — music being an important part of virtually all Bollywood productions. (If you’ve seen the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” you know something about Bollywood production numbers.)

“Music is a very integral part of our movies,” Palherkar explains. “When the main hero wants to say something, he usually says it to the music.”

Spanish-language movies also are expected to show up at local multiplexes in greater numbers.

For example, Lionsgate — the distributor behind the “Saw” horror franchise, Tyler Perry’s “Madea” comedies and the upcoming “Hunger Games” adaptation — recently formed Pantelion Films, a division specializing in “commercial Spanish-language films for a broad audience,” in Serwitz’s words.

Among Pantelion’s first Spanish-language releases: the aforementioned “Saving Private Perez” and the Mexican comedy “No eres tu, soy yo.” Neither set box-office records, to be sure.

But “it’s a natural to go after that market,” says Cinemark’s Gonzales, noting the circuit’s strength in Southwest markets from Texas to California.

Sometimes “it takes a while for it to catch on,” he acknowledges. “But there is an audience in Las Vegas — and we need to tap into it.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272.

Foreign films serve audience hungry for a taste of home

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