Aud flocks to Eagle Theater for niche pix
The marquee lights dimmed long ago. But on any given weekend, hundreds sit in the well-worn seats as musicals and love stories dance across the screen at Jackson Heights’ Eagle Theater in Queens, New York.
The mostly Indian and Bangladesh aud doesn’t come to watch Will Smith torch robots or long-haired girls drip well water from beyond the grave. They come for their Bollywood fix.
“They say this used to be a pornographic theater, but that was in the 1930s,” says Saqib Hussain, a courtly Bangladeshi who has managed the Eagle Movie Theater the past five years. “Now the neighborhood is all families. And people come from upstate, all over the tristate area to Little India, to shop for the Indian food, the hallal meat and the gold jewelry.”
India produces about 1,000 pics a year, with 120 of these tagged as Bollywood-styled films, according to Ken Naz, CEO of Eros Entertainment’s North America division, which distributes about 70% of all Bollywood titles in the United States.
About 40 films a year end up at the Eagle, which can close and open a new title every week. Half the movies are subtitled — a bow to Americanized auds. But this is a sophisticated community. They may have left East Asia, but they aren’t willing to leave their culture behind.
The Eagle sits midblock near the crossroads of what’s been dubbed Little India, a two-block stretch along 74th Street between Roosevelt and 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Fabric stores beckon with their seductive silks and saris, while the packed Jackson Diner serves spicy curry and margaritas to a mixed crowd of trendsters and toddlers.
The Eagle left her glamour days behind long ago. Light bulbs on the marquee are missing, and those that remain are rarely lit. Posters from upcoming movies are often taped over with notes of premiere changes or other messages to patrons. But since Bollywood gets no love at area multiplexes, patrons stay loyal to the Eagle.
Seating capacity is 480, but most weekend screenings cap out at 300 patrons. And it is not a raucous teenage date-night crowd. Because Bollywood’s films aren’t rated, children are allowed. They even sit patiently through the often three- to four-hour films — lengths that would get a Hollywood studio director fired for auteur-like excess.
“We tell them before it starts if there is some language they might not like,” Hussain says. “But there isn’t violence. People don’t like it. They already see a lot of violence in their real lives. They come here to see singing and dancing.”