Jan. 27, 2007 — -- Popcorn and the movies are as synonymous as peanut butter and jelly, but one audience prefers a version of the potato.
Every Friday and Saturday night, like most multiplexes around the country, Columbia Park Cinema 12 in North Bergen, N.J., is bustling with munching, soda guzzling, candy consuming movie-goers of all ages. But some other delicacies are also favored among this audience.
Columbia Park is not your typical movie theatre. Half of their 12 screens are reserved for Indian films most Americans have never heard of, with "Guru," "Pokkiri," and "Salaam-E-Ishq" currently topping its lineup.
They are the latest hits from India's Bombay-based, Hindi-language movie industry, Bollywood, and other regional Indian cinema.
According to owner and operator Vijay Shah, they have the largest assortmant of these movies on the East Coast. For the largely Indian audience, a trip to North Bergen's multiplex is at once a family-bonding activity, a celebration of Indian culture, and a chance to stay in touch with their cultural heritage.
"What unites the people in the audience here is love of Bollywood films and homesickness," said Suketu Mehta, a Brooklyn native whose family moved to Jackson Heights, N.Y., from India when he was a teenager.
Indian cinemas have sprung up all across America, signaling both an increase in the Indian population and the budding popularity of these films, even among the U.S. audience.
In 2006, eight of the 15 highest-grossing foreign language films came from India, said Gitesh Pandya, editor of the Web site boxofficeguru.com.
With half a million Indian Asians in the New York metropolitan area, many Indian cinema owners, including Shah, hope to continue selling out show after show.
Those in attendance at North Bergen's multiplex on a recent evening said these movies are more than just a chance to unwind at the end of the week -- they provide the opportunity to connect with their roots, and that includes eating traditional foods
A visit to the concession stand offers the typical popcorn, candy and soda along with papa chat, samosas, vada pav and mango kulfi.
Most of the snacks are made from potatoes and are often mixed with chick peas, yogurt, and assorted spices which give it flavor and variety.
For this crowd, popcorn is not the food of choice, it's the potato. But for the moviegoers, nothing can top the appeal of the entertainment.
"We're Indian, right?" one moviegoer commented. "So we love Bollywood."