Business News

We will bounce back, it is a matter of two quarters

The merger of PVR and Inox, two of India’s largest film exhibitors, announced last year, is now complete and has made Ajay Bijli the head of the world’s fifth-largest multiplex chain by the number of screens. PVR Inox made Rs 3,869 crore in revenues last financial year, and owns 1,689 screens in 115 cities. It is not a perfect world for Bijli, but he tells Vanita Kohli-Khandekar in a telephonic interview that light is around the corner. Edited excerpts:

The news of PVR Inox shutting 50 screens…

My statement during the earnings call was misinterpreted. A national debate has started on the state of the film industry because PVR Inox is shutting 50 screens. They completely missed the point that we are also opening 168 screens in the same catchments. Take Chandigarh for example. We opened there 25 years ago.That mall is over now, the escalators and elevators don’t work. We are closing four screens there and opening 17 screens next to it. Shutting screens in defunct malls is a normal thing in any retail industry, where you shut old stores and open new ones. We spent 700 crore last year and are spending 700 crore this year on new screens.

So, what is the state of the cinema business?

Markets where there is more content flow and the movie-going index is higher have bounced back to 90 per cent of the pre-Covid levels. This is all South-Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and, especially, Karnataka

-because it feeds on six languages. But the moment you come to West, East, North, and Central, we are at 50- 60 per cent of the pre-Covid levels. There is a volatility I have never seen before. If a film does well, it goes to another level. Pathaan reached a level never seen begore.

Is there a textural change?

We were knocked out like a boxer [by the pandemic], but the count to 10 has still not finished. Even with so much uncertainty we got 140 million people in our cinemas. Of course, pre-Covid it was 181 million. We are on track to get 170 to 180 million this year. In the short run, some changes have happened.

The supply side (creative) got distracted by long-form entertainment shows for OTT. On the demand side (audience), habits have changed. There is anxiety and excitement since they are not getting the content they want consistently.

A recurring theme in India is its low screen count. What would be a good number?

We produce 1,800 to 1,900 films a year. You can’t possibly accommodate them in (the current) 8,000-9,000 screens, especially if 5,000 of them are single screens. A single screen with 1,000 seats can only take one movie. But a multiplex with four screens can take four movies at a time, and six if you divide the shows around. If you are able to accommodate more movies, more shows and revenues will happen.

If you drive around in Noida or Gurgaon, they are over-screened, because every single mall coming up has a screen even if the mall next door has a 10-screen complex. And certain catchments have a dearth of screens. In my view, India can take 20,000 to 22,000 screens.

What are the structural changes that the rise of streaming has forced?

There was a time when Mr Bachchan (Amitabh) and Dharmendra and all these people looked jaded. Then suddenly came Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh, Karan Johar and a new phase happened. Every few decades, change has to be brought about creatively. OTT is forcing everyone to look at the kind of content they are making. There is no confusion as far as the big movies are concerned. It is the mid-sized films where they are thinking how we connect with the audiences more. They did earlier with Andhadhun, Kahaani and others. But these are few and far between. We are going through a transition, but will bounce back. It is a matter of two quarters.



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