Balboa's Bollywood: "Jodhaa Akbar" comes to SF.

Bollywood By the Bay

Laura Irvine February 16, 2008

Every morning I wake up with Bollywood movie tunes going through my head. Every. Single. Morning. Such is the life of a Bollywood fanatic who needs the addictive rhythms, blinding bling-covered costumes, sensational settings, and emotional outpourings of Hindi Cinema. To keep from getting the tremors, I require an injection several times a month. Happily the Bay Area is not stingy with its Indian film offerings. Listed below are some of the best places to get your fix.

The much anticipated Bollywood film “Jodhaa Akbar” opens at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco this Friday (the same day as the world-wide release). This movie has big-time creds featuring two of the hottest Bollywood stars, Ashwariya Rai Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan, scored by the prolific composer A.R. Rahman, and helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker, director of the Oscar nominated “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” (which featured a truly exciting hour-and-a-half cricket match).

1. Naz 8 Cinemas (Fremont)
“Jodhaa Akbar” will also be opening at Fremont’s Naz 8, the granddaddy of Bay Area Indian movie venues. Usually, the Naz shows four or five different movies in the seven-auditorium multiplex, but this week they’re clearing the schedule for “Jodhaa Akbar,” with showtimes starting every half hour.

The Naz makes it difficult to see Bollywood movies anywhere else. Why? Because for an older suburban mall theatre, the sound system is bangin’. They play the movies LOUD, just like you need them to be when you’re watching Shah Rukh Khan shaking his newly sculpted abs to “Dard-e-Disco” in “Om Shanti Om.” And because during the “interval,” you can buy samosas swimming in spicy chutneys or opt for bhel puri or pani puri to go with your mango lassi. And because during the intermission, after you’ve gotten your snack, you can wander into the open doors of the other 6 auditoriums and catch snippets of the other movies playing. Matinee showings are usually sparsely attended, but if you really want the full Naz experience, go to a late night show when the theater is “house full.” It’s great to hear the audience gasp as one when Ashwariya Rai finally turns and makes her glorious cinematic entrance or the laughter as Govinda struts his humorous dance moves. For the Hindi-challenged, the information on the Naz website about which films have English subtitles is always right on. While you’re in the area, make sure to visit one of the South Indian restaurants for a dosa fix or a terrific lunch buffet. My favorite is Udupi Palace just off the freeway in Newark.

2. Indian Movie Center (IMC 6) (San Jose)
Veteran Hong Kong film fans will remember this theater as the former Towne Theater. Like the UC Theater in Berkeley, Hong Kong movies nights were a staple of the Towne for many years — from the early ’90s through the mid ’90s. But now, the Towne has morphed into the IMC6 which shows mostly non-Bollywood Indian films opting instead to showcase mostly South Indian films in Tamil or Telugu. Like the Naz, the IMC6 offers a good, loud sound system & Indian snacks. The downside for English-only speakers like me is that most of the films are not subtitled in English. Sometimes they are, though, so call ahead and ask about the subtitles. The IMC 6 also has screenings at the Century Berryessa 10 in San Jose.

3. 3rd i Films (San Francisco)
My favorite Bollywood movie is “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (K3G). I already loved this film, but when I saw it at the Castro during 3rdi’s Indian Film Festival a few years ago, it was an absolutely transcendent experience. The combination audience of Indian, “cross-over,” and gay makes 3rdi’s annual Bollywood blockbuster showing an event and one that should not be missed. Every time Shah Rukh Khan, dancing in front of the Great Pyramids in his see-through “nipple” shirt, threw his arms out in true Bollywood hero fashion and sang of his love for the beautiful Kajol, the audience roared its approval. To this day, I think about that screening and smile. Every year the fest features a big, beautiful Bollywood film (usually featuring megastar Shah Rukh Khan) and every year it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Throughout the year, 3rdi also sponsors Indian movie screenings around the Bay Area and offers informative and totally fun panels and workshops.

4. Center for Asian American Media (San Francisco)
“Om Shanti Om,” the 2007 Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster, will screen next month at the 26th San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. The SFAAIFF has been featuring a Bollywood film or two for several years now dating back to 2003 with another SRK starrer “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.” According to Taro Goto, the festival Assistant Director, people have been asking for more SRK, so “Om Shanti Om” is just the ticket.

5. Cinedome 8 (Fremont)
If you check the South Bay and East Bay theater listings, occasionally a Bollywood movie will screen at a multiplex or two. The Cinedome 8 is one of those theaters — recently screening “Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag” (the much talked about, headache inducing remake of beloved Curry Western “Sholay”).

6. 4 Star Theatre (San Francisco)
The 4 Star Theatre has the distinction of being the only San Francisco theatre to give the sublime melodrama and Indian Filmfare Awards sweeper “Devdas” a regular run. The 4 Star occasionally shows Indian films and usually includes a few in their annual San Francisco Asian Film Festival. In 2007, they also hosted 3rdi’s presentation of “Amu,” featuring an extended Q&A with the film’s passionate director Shonali Bose.

7. Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley)
The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley has been responsible for some of my most memorable Indian film viewings including the rarely screened Indian adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” “Kandukondain Kandukondain” (I Have Found It), Ram Gopal Varma’s criminal underworld opus “Company,” and day-in-the-life of a female suicide bomber “The Terrorist.”

8. Balboa Theater (San Francisco)
The Balboa scores this week with “Jodhaa Akbar,” but they’re also credited with bringing Bollywood superhits “Veer-Zaara” & “Rang De Basanti” to San Francisco. The Balboa seems to love those big Bollywood blockbusters, so keep an eye on their website for future showings.