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October 15, 2001
Arthur J Pais and Som Chivukula
American Desi, the cross-cultural campus comedy hit, is laughing its way to the British banks.
"One of the reasons the film has hit a chord among the desis in Britain is that it gives a glimpse into young desi life in America," says producer Gitesh Pandya.
"They have seen Bollywood films about desis in America. But here we are presenting our own youthful stories, something that we have experienced ourselves in recent years."
Many British teenagers were fascinated to hear the Indian characters speak naturally with an American accent, he adds.
The shoe-strung budget flick has grossed about $ 225,000 in two weeks from 27 theaters, with the second weekend gross going up by about 4 per cent.
American Desi, which has grossed about $ 1 million in North America, was placed 15th on IMBD's top box office list for the week in Britain.
Eros, a leading distributor of Hindi language films, is the world-wide distributor of American Desi. It is the first English language film distributed by Eros.
Pandya said the Warner Village Star City in Birmingham is the among venues where repeat audiences for American Desis is strongest.
"Steven Spielberg's AI, which was the highest grossing film in Britain for two weeks, was running on two screens in Star City," he adds. "We were on one screen. And yet, collection-wise we were the second biggest grosser there."
This weekend, Warner Village on Westend will be showing the film, he said.
"We had wanted to show it very much in central London but the exhibitors there had wondered if the movie would draw big numbers," he continues. "But following the success elsewhere, the theatre decided to give us a screen."
Marking the feature debut of writer and director Piyush Dinker Pandya, American Desi is the story of a young Indian-American man, out of touch with his heritage. Circumstances force him to terms with his culture in order to win the girl of his dreams, who happens to be Indian. The film offers several other stories focusing on generation gap and cultural misunderstandings.
Though some of the American mainstream publications including The New York Times and the trade publication, Variety, trashed the film, The Wall Street Journal gave it a rousing review.
"When we began planning the British release of the film, we were concerned if the audiences in England would embrace the film as warmly as the audiences in America," Gitesh Pandya continues.
"Throughout the summer, we held several test screenings, and we decided to show trailers that emphasized the kind of humor British audiences would love," he said. In a classroom scene, for example, a desi professor asks for a rubber. Of course, he means an eraser.
Many newly arrived Indians in America have gone through similar embarrassment, not knowing rubber means a condom in today's America.
"We got great response from that scene during the test screening," Pandya says. "We decided then that it had to be in the trailers."
Like in North America, the word of mouth for the film is doing wonders, the Pandya brothers say. "And like in America, we are seeing a lot of white people," he adds. "Many Indians have been bringing their British friends."
Each week, Gitesh Pandya predicts the box-office prospects of mainstream film via his www.boxofficeguru.com. He also discusses the staying power of the films.
How does he rate the final prospects of his film in Britain?
"If the current pattern is holding," he says, "we should gross half a million dollars."
American Desi would be released in Spain, Belgium and France after a few weeks, and then expand to other European countries.
"But those will be a screen here, a screen there," Pandya says. "What we are looking forward to is India."
The movie was to have its Indian premiere at the international film festival in Bangalore, he said. But the festival was cancelled because of the drought situation in the state and the security concerns following the September 11 World Trade Center attacks.
"Now, we are looking to a December release," he continues. "In a way that is going to help the film more because of the buzz in the Indian media about its success in England and America."
American Desi has also won three nominations (picture, actor, and actress) for next month's annual Ammy Awards that recognizes excellence in Asian and Asian-American cinema. Only Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has collected more nominations this year with four.
As in Britain, Eros has started conducting tests for the film in India.
"We are sure there are enough number of people in India who are craving for a romantic comedy that is different from the Bollywood films," he says.
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