Global Hit - FunAsia

The Oscar nominations were announced today. "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" led the pack with eight apiece. Either film is big on musical numbers. No, when it comes to all singing, all dancing, Hollywood can't touch Bollywood. India's film industry produces a lot more movies than Hollywood does...and most are musicals. They're popular not only in India, but in, of all places, Texas. The Lone Star State boasts North America's largest chain of Bollywood theaters. Bill Zeeble of KERA in Dallas reports.

North Texas claims at least a hundred thousand South Asians, many drawn here to work in what's known as the telecomm corridor. When they and their families want entertainment, they often go to FunAsia. The chain has multiplex theaters in Richardson, Irving and Houston, with 17 screens in all.

Asha Tabani's in line to see a Bollywood film at FunAsia's Richardson theater near Dallas. For the Pakistani native, this is a bit of home. Now a student, she's lived here 10 years.

TABANIi: "Indian movies have this sort of innocence to them. In a lot of American movies you'll see a lot of vulgar, controversial things. But Indian movies, it's more for the family. The whole family can watch, with kids and adults and it'll be entertaining for every age group."

Bollywood carefully observes ratings guidelines. So while there's almost always a love story, there's almost never an onscreen kiss. But there's plenty of music and dancing, even in films with serious story lines.

HAMID: "It's the expectation that you'll see new dresses, lots of colorful saris, and see all this music and songs and that's part of the entertainment."

Farrukh Hamid co-founded FunAsia six-years ago. The Richardson doctor wanted to create a South Asian cultural center. He soon realized that Bollywood movies would attract big crowds, and FunAsia has become a center for South Asian entertainment. Bollywood films last at least three hours. Hamid says movie goers can make a night of it, and even get Indian food rather than popcorn during intermission.

HAMID: "So they don't mind when they spend that money. That's also the reason for the length of the movie - that you get your money's worth."

While movies are the cornerstone of FunAsia, Bollywood music is just as important. That's because film songs are the sub-continent's pop music, dominating Indian radio. FunAsia often presents concerts featuring Bollywood musical stars. Composer and singer A-R Rahman was a recent headliner. Called the Mozart of Madras, he moved from advertising jingle writing to a film music career, because he says that was about the only way to succeed in Indian popular music.

RAHMAN: "Film is really big. Maybe 20 times more than a pop album. If the film becomes a hit, it's becomes 80 times more. So the proportion of what film does, that carries the music. It's unbelievable."

This song, "Tere Bina," with Rahman singing, comes from last year's hit film Guru, about an admirable entrepreneur who's also corrupt.

These days, Rahman's music and other Bollywood songs are so big they're released in advance of the movie, to promote it.

This song, "Ajab Si," was released weeks before the movie it's in came out. It's one of several from the film Om Shanti Om, which broke Indian box office records when it opened worldwide in November.

Written by the team of Vishal and Shekhar, it's a love song about a beautiful Bollywood movie star who uncovers a deadly plot by her film-producer husband.

FunAsia also runs an Indian radio station, rents out banquet halls and meeting rooms, and publishes the free Desi Pages Indian magazine.

The concept so enticed India's biggest theater company, Pyramid Saimira, that it just bought FunAsia. It also bought screens in Chicago for the first FunAsia in the midwest, and plans to spread FunAsia across North America, wherever there are large South Asian communities.

For the World, I'm Bill Zeeble, Richardson, Texas.

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