SONALI AND RAKESH GANGWANI: DETROIT’S BOLLYWOOD CONNECTION
Is there an upside to arranged marriages? According to Sonali and Rakesh (Ricky) Gangwani, there are plenty. And they should know: the proprietors of Novi’s wildly popular SR Theater in the Novi Town Center known primarily for showcasing Bollywood films — the wildly popular Hindi-language epic films that are produced by Bombay studios—have celebrated a happy and prosperous union, just as their parents predicted. “Sometimes your parents know best,” Sonali explains. “After all, they’ve spent your lifetime caring for you, providing for your needs, always with your best interests at heart. It stands to reason that their recommendation in a spouse would follow that same intelligent path.”
“Plus,” she adds with a knowing wink, “Arranged marriages almost never break up. It’s because if you go in as strangers, or near strangers in our case, you are prepared from the outset to make compromises—give a little in order to gain.
Sonali came to the United States in 1988. In what turned out to be a fortuitous coincidence, she met her future husband Rakesh at a friend’s house. He was immediately struck by her beauty, which is still quite evident, and asked her out. She declined, but only because she was preparing for her great journey and in India, dating is not always treated as casually as it is here. Was it love at first sight? Smiles Sonali, “Let’s just say there was a mutual liking.”
A decade later, prior to their marriage, Rakesh reminded her that they’d met before. “It helped,” Rakesh admits. “We always call our marriage ‘semi-arranged.’
Meanwhile SR Theater, formerly known as the Novi Town Center 8, continues to grow in scope and popularity, being ground zero for Hindi language movies as well as films in Tamil and Telugu. Enhancing the experience, beside the usual popcorn and Milk Duds, SR’s concession stand offers desi masala chai, samosas, Limca and Thums Up. SR, of course, is a combination of Sonali and Rakesh’s initials.
A recent online search revealed a wide selection of films offered, both mainstream American films and the very latest from Bollywood. Customers, Rakesh points out, are all nationalities. “Our films all are subtitled, so even if you don’t speak Hindi, you’ll still enjoy the show. We have a growing percentage of customers who aren’t from India, who have heard about the extravagant costumes and staging in Bollywood productions and want to see them firsthand.”
As a business, Sonali says, ‘Bollywood is actually much larger than Hollywood. They make more movies, spend more money, and have just as many A-list stars. The term ‘Bollywood’ is a mistake if it makes you think that the Indian film industry is a step-child of the American film industry. We’ve been around just as long, and actually, more people go and see Bollywood films worldwide than those from California.”