Venture to the Regal Countryside Stadium 20 movie theater in Sterling near highways 28 and 7 on a Saturday evening, and you will likely see a long line.
People in this line are not waiting for “Blade Runner 2049” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” They want to see the Hindi-language horror comedy “Golmaal Again” or the Telugu drama “Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi.” They want to see Hindi cinema – popularly called Bollywood – and similar films in other Indian languages.
“I’ve learned when to go when it’s not that crowded, such as during the day or a weekday evening,” said Sudeep Banerjee of Ashburn, who has been supporting the burgeoning Indian film industry in Northern Virginia since emigrating from India in 2005.
The Regal’s first Bollywood film was the crime drama “Kurbaan” in 2009. The entertainment company now has nine Regal theaters in the D.C. region that show such films, said Sandra Heinig, public relations director for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Entertainment Group.
“We’re proud to provide our guests the chance to experience this energetic cinematic style film on the big screen,” Heinig said.
Hindi cinema originated in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, more than a century ago. Bollywood — which took its name from Bombay and Hollywood — is the largest film producer in India, representing 43 percent of the box office, according to a Deloitte study.
India now produces more movies than any other country, including the United States. “Dangal,” a 2016 Hindi sports drama based on the life of amateur wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained his daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari to be world-class wrestlers, remains the highest-grossing Indian film at some $317 million, according to Bollywood Hungama News Network.
Growing up in Mumbai watching such movies, Banerjee started going to Hindi film at a theater in the Seven Corners area of Arlington shortly after moving to the region to work on a graduate degree. A marketing and strategy employee for a nonprofit organization, he has checked them out on big screens as far as Laurel, Md., and watches movies in several languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Punjabi and Tamil.
When the Regal Countryside started showing Bollywood films eight years ago, Banerjee was among the theater’s regular customers. “Regal has done well in showing them on more screens. They show them in different languages and offer a wide range of movies, including Korean,” he said.
He sometimes drives a little south to the newer Rave Cinemas Centreville 12. “The screens are larger and seats are nicer,” Banerjee noted.
That theater and the Regal Sterling one offer a new Bollywood movie each week, he said. Besides other Regal complexes in Manassas and elsewhere, the AMC Worldgate 9 in Herndon, Rave Cinemas Fairfax Corner 14 and DC Cinemas in Falls Church are among those that have screened Indian-language movies for several years.
At Worldgate, individuals could at one time invest in movies from their homeland to get distribution rights and make deals with the theater to show them, Banerjee said. “The theater took a percentage. The margin for the investors might be something like 25 percent so they were taking a risk that the attendance would be there,” he said.
It’s not just Indian immigrants supporting Bollywood movies. Many Russians grew up watching such films, Banerjee noted. He has seen more European, Japanese and Korean immigrants populating the theaters to catch the often colorful, drama-filled productions.
The Northern Virginia market saw a growth spurt in Indian-language movies between 2012 and 2015, but that seems to be leveling off, Banerjee said. The increase in people streaming movies online and watching at home through Netflix and cable companies might be taking a toll in some areas.
“We might be getting to a saturation point,” Banerjee said.