On the Friday before Christmas, Sylvia Park was crowded with shoppers. The stores had windows dressed to kill. The bars and restaurants were noisy.
But the upstairs foyer of Hoyts Cinemas was almost eerily quiet. Of the patrons gathered for the 8.50pm screening, almost all were in family groups. And almost all were Indian.
Their colourful saris and crisply ironed shirts, the flashes of gold on necks and wrists attested to the importance of the occasion: the release of the Bollywood year's likely biggest box-office hit.
Remarkably, no one knew much about the film, which is called PK. The marketing plan was based on maintaining mystery, though star Aamir Khan, who has a string of 50 credits reaching back 40 years, has plenty of pulling power.
The strategy plainly worked. The 450-seat cinema, the centre's biggest (it was playing in a smaller house, too) was packed. The adventures of the titular hero, a brother from another planet marooned on ours, kept the chuckles coming. The gently satirical tone (the film lampoons rapacious evangelism) didn't seem calculated to offend, though the opening credits were preceded by a notice that "we do not wish to hurt the sentiments of any individual, community, sect or religion".
The official figures for the first weekend show PK is a bona fide hit. The raw takings of a little over $171,000 were dwarfed by the new Hobbit movie's $1.1 million, but the so-called screen average of $15,555 was three times that of the Jackson film (PK was on 11 screens, The Hobbit on 205).
You don't have to be very old to remember when going to the movies in New Zealand meant seeing something from the UK or US. But as our demographic composition has changed, so has our movie-going. As 2014 turns to 2015, audiences whose roots lie in India and China have a small, but growing, sector of the cinema-going business.
Indian cinema has had a niche presence since 1991 when Ritesh Raniga held weekend screenings in the Crystal Palace, Mt Eden, for which he sold tickets at his nearby video store. But these days Indian product is in the multiplexes.
Pritesh Raniga (no relation), the director of Forum Films, a major distributor of Bollywood product here and in the Pacific Islands, tells me that most of the business is in Auckland, where two thirds of New Zealand Indians live.
"Probably 70 per cent of the business is done here," he says. "And definitely the audience is mostly Indian. But we would really like to get other communities involved as well."
That may seem a bit ambitious, given Bollywood's extravagant and highly stylised approach - the action is routinely interrupted for big song-and-dance numbers that make Madonna videos look minimalist - but Raniga reckons that non-Indians who give it a try would lap it up.
"People love to see the music and the dance because they don't see it in a normal Hollywood movie."
Indian cinema is not achieving blockbuster figures here yet. This year's total box office will be about $2.5 million (Kiwi pictures, which have had a good year, will take about $6.5 million) but it's a safe bet that figure is going to grow.
So also will Chinese films. They will take a mere $700,000 here this year, but Milt Barlow, CEO of specialist distributor Incubate, says that Auckland's 112,000 Chinese (plus short-stay students) make it the eighth-largest Chinese city in the world outside Asia and "the appetite is huge. It's a good captive audience and it's a regular part of the programming now".
Barlow says Chinese films, like Indian ones, excite very little interest outside Auckland, where Queen St and St Lukes are the best-performing sites. "You would expect Botany [high Chinese population] to go off like a rocket but it's been not that great."
The appetites of new Chinese audiences - big-spending young people - have influenced production; Hong Kong kung fu flicks have been replaced by romantic comedies, such as Love on the Cloud, which opens tomorrow.
"The thing with Asian films," says Barlow, "is that you don't have to spend a large amount on marketing. The audience is already locked in. They have their own websites, the stars they follow. You've just got to tell them when the film is playing."
Adds Chinese New Zealander Ray Suen, a programmer for Event Cinemas: "The community is very close. It's easier to get the word out to them."