Kanakia Group’s Cinemax was bought by PVR in 2012. The real estate company had originally forayed into the cinema exhibition business in 1997. Cineline was the original name conceptualized in 2002 before it became Cinemax. Now, the brand MovieMax is being built. Ashish Kanakia tells us how a premium and budget brand strategy is shaping up.
After a lull of two years, how has the business picked up in the past two months?
I can say post-Covid that OTT has supported the movie industry. Earlier the Hindi belt only watched Hindi movies, rest of India excluding South only watched Bollywood and Hollywood. Now they consume Marathi, South Indian films and also Korean movies. Today crowds at theatres are increasing and it has gone beyond pre-covid levels. We are also seeing an evolved and intelligent audience. The films that did well earlier, that content has become outdated. Take for instance KGF. The hero may be a newcomer to Bollywood but imagine the footfall he has created. The film has been a super duper hit in Hindi, this is because OTT has opened a new window for the audiences and that is the reason they are more evolved now.
Some of the big blockbusters in recent times are the South movies as there have been no big releases from Bollywood. Recently BhoolBhulaiyaa 2 has done very well and we are anticipating that Prithviraj will do extremely well.
Today films are still being released on OTT, how does it affect the theatrical business?
Definitely not this year. We are now seeing both the airline and hospitality business picking up very well and I am seeing a very bright outlook when it comes to entertainment as well. People haven’t been entertained in the past two years, and they are coming to the theatres now and I see no challenge to our business this year.
How do you think the government can help you to cut your losses of the past two years and also how will you ensure small producers get back to releasing their films in cinemas?
It is a tough task, today there are too many big films coming up for a release and the schedule is very tight and every week it is a fight with the distributors. We have the maximum number of movies produced but we have the lowest number of screens. When we come to multiplexes, the numbers are dismal. There are 9,000 screens all over India and out of which only 3,000 are multiplexes. 70 to 80pc of India has not been exposed to multiplexes or a proper single screen.
How can a small producer fight this system?
The only thing that sells is content. Take for instance Kashmir Files. Every show was houseful. It worked because the content connected with the audience. Even a small film like Chandigarh KareAashiqui worked because of the content and if the content connects with the audiences then a small producer can get space.
Movie viewing in a multiplex is expensive; the food is more expensive than the ticket. Any strategy to make theatres more affordable?
Organised, quality cinema operators today are only two in this country and you can compare them to the Taj and Leela of the hospitality industry. This whole business is very unorganised and we need to be more organised and add value to address the rest of the market. We need to work on a formula where we give the audiences a clean, hygienic environment, good sound quality, comfortable seating and all of that and we are going to do that with MovieMax.
We have just started and within two months of our operations we have had five lakh footfalls and in this year we are going to have over 70 screens operational. We are the fastest multiplex player ever to start up and scale up. We are planning to have a premium brand and a budget brand.
On the question of food, it is the only thing we make money on. Our industry is the most expensive as our capex is very high and also we pay a high rental that is why food is expensive.
Cineline has re-entered the film exhibition business and is now talking about expansion plans; will it be across geographies i.e. urban plus smaller towns?
Cinemax was the brand which we later sold off to PVR and gave our assets as rent to PVR. We were three three big players in the industry: PVR, Cinemax and INOX. Cinemax was the first chain to introduce recliner seats, red lounge and we were at the forefront in innovations and introducing new products to improve customer experience.
After selling off to PVR, we did have a few theatres which we had leased out and the lease ended this year and we decided not to renew the lease and restart our brand. In the new normal we are seeing the revival of the cinema business and audience footfalls to increase at theatres.
We are going all out. We are going to have theatres in Noida, Patiala, Ahmedabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Lucknow and many more places. Each site of ours is going to be distinctive and unique. Today the real growth is in the Tier 2/3 geographies, for example a city like Patiala with 10 lakh population has one multiplex, and there is huge scope for us. We are innovating and want to make the theatre experience unique for the audiences.