WESTBOROUGH — Bhanu Vadhera makes a nice living as a computer scientist. Back home in India, though, he grew up dreaming of becoming an actor.
He’s been in America 22 years. When his kids finish college, he says, he might shed a little paunch and try to audition in Bollywood. Hey, he figures, Tom Cruise is over 50, isn’t he?
Tonight, however, Vadhera is just looking to relax. He has come to the movies with a friend to take in a screening of one of the latest Bollywood hits, “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (A Love Story).” Yes, for the price of a single ticket, romance and a cautionary tale about sanitation; these are some of the many joys of Indian cinema.
Vadhera is part of the large South Asian community that has immigrated in recent decades to the suburbs of Boston. He lives in Natick with his wife, a school administrator.
Marketing to locals like Vadhera, the Regal Westborough Stadium 12 has been programming three or four Hindi-language and other English-subtitled films from India alongside typical Hollywood fare for several years. Bollywood (so nicknamed after Bombay, the former name of Mumbai, the biggest city in the country) is just one of India’s film hubs; movies made in two more of the country’s many languages, Telugu and Bengali, are known as products of “Tollywood.”
By several measures, the Indian film industry is the world’s largest, turning out more films annually than Hollywood does — over 1,700 in 2013 alone, almost 1,000 more than United States studios — and drawing a billion or so more ticket buyers than American-made movies worldwide each year. (Movie tickets, however, are much cheaper in India, meaning box office revenues are considerably less.)
South Asian immigrants across the country stay connected with their homeland in part by watching the movies their relatives are watching, and a growing number of mainstream cinemas are acknowledging the community by booking Bollywood films. In Massachusetts, the AMC Loews Methuen 20 and Apple Cinemas Cambridge are two more that showcase films from India; the third annual Caleidoscope Film Festival, featuring arthouse films from India, takes place Sept. 8-10 at Apple Cinemas and MIT.
“Boston has become a microcosm of real India here,” says Upendra Mishra, publisher of Waltham-based India New England News. For the immigrant community, he says, though the Internet has made all cultures accessible, it’s not the same as seeing a film in your native language on the big screen.
“When you grow up in India, your only entertainment is movies,” said Mishra, who has lived in America since 1992. “They’re cheap, exciting, funny, romantic. In a way, you’re living your own fantasies by watching movies. It has a very deep impact.”
According to the US census, the state’s Indian population increased by 76 percent from 2000 to 2010, concentrated in MetroWest towns such as Shrewsbury and Westborough. Indo-Americans have long been attracted to Massachusetts for its higher education and its high-tech and biomedical industries.
Several local theaters are currently showing “Toilet,” a romantic satire with a unique social message: It’s about the Indian government’s campaign to improve sanitation in rural areas where open defecation has been a persistent public health problem.
That was the case in the village where Purshottam Vishwakarma grew up, he said last week on his way into the Regal in Westborough, which is set back from a commercial stretch of Route 9 behind an Uno Pizzeria. From what he’d heard, the film handles a sticky issue with plenty of good humor, and he was looking forward to it.
A resident of Ashland, he was at the movies with his wife, Arnika, and their friend Naman Saraf, who lives in Framingham and works with Vishwakarma at MathWorks in Natick. Last winter they came here to see “Dangal,” a popular feature based on the true story of an Indian man who trained his daughters to become champion wrestlers.
That movie was much better than “The Dark Tower,” the recent Stephen King adaptation, said Saraf. He found the American film to be “half-baked.” (In recent years, Hollywood films have made increasing inroads in India, led by superhero movies and the recent live-action remake of “The Jungle Book.”)
Another group came to the Regal that night to see “Jab Harry Met Sejal.” Despite the title, the romantic comedy has no relation to the American classic “When Harry Met Sally. . .” Not that it matters to Sunny Donepudi, 25, who has never heard of the Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan comedy.
A resident of Grafton, he was at the theater with his mother, Padma, and Sunny’s 18-year-old cousin, Srinath Gaddi, who is about to enter Northeastern University for his freshman year.
When Sunny was younger, the Donepudis sometimes traveled into Boston to see family pictures from India. Now they only have to drive a few miles, but it doesn’t happen often. “This is probably the only time I’ve come to the movies lately with my mother,” Sunny said.
In the lobby, Vadhera greeted his friend Aftab Butt, who had arrived just in time for the start of their movie. Butt, who lives in Holliston and teaches at Suffolk University, immigrated to the United States 30 years ago from Pakistan.
At home in South Asia, Vadhera noted, the two would have been bitter enemies. Here in America, they’re buddies.
Among other things they have in common, Butt said, both of their first names mean the same thing — “Sunshine.”
Sounds like something you’d see in the movies.