The iconic posture of Amitabh Bachchan in DEEWAR greets you when you enter the cabin of the young, dynamic and a movie enthusiast Amit Sharma - MD Miraj Cinemas (recognized as the ‘Fastest Growing Cinema Chain’ by CMO Asia. Within four years Miraj Cinemas has grown from zero to an 84 screen multiplex chain across India. After exchanging greetings, Amit sits against the backdrop of Spiderman sharing the vision, the growth, the challenges and the future of movie watching in India.
Having a successful stint with Cinemax, what made you enter Miraj?
In my endeavor with Cinemax as Head of Operations, I collected the knowledge, got the exposure in understanding the consumer behavior pattern across the country during the pan India expansion and learnt that major players were concentrating on the T1centers. So either there was a multiplex offering a ticket at 300/- rupees or a single screen offering a ticket at Rs 100/- for the same film, there was nothing in between 100 – 300. Here the idea of Miraj took birth, to offer cine goer something in between say for Rs 200/- giving the same ambience of 300/-. Today if the average ticket price is at Rs 200, we are on average at 115 – 120. Miraj came as an option for the middle class who enjoy watching movies on screen but due to the alleged overpricing restrict their passion.
How the journey of Miraj Cinemas started?
We started in Ajmer with zero screens and today we have reached 84 screens spreading across the length and breadth of the country. At present Miraj operates 30 multiplexes in around 25 cities across nation. Our last year revenue was 120 core and this year we are achieving 125 crores with an aim to hit 225 corer mark in the next financial year with 100 screens.
How do you analyze your growth?
The growth is organic and we have not acquired any running multiplex chain, we have acquired a running single screen theatre sensing the potential and modified it into a multiple screen theatre.
How easy and difficult is the process of acquiring a running chain at a premium and modifying a running single screen into a multiple screen?
It depends on much money you have in your kitty and how much value can you add to the investment. Either organic or buying at premium both are fine.
Why Miraj has primarily concentrated on T2, T3 centers?
It’s not about T1, T2 or T3, it’s about identifying the target area and running your business. Right now Miraj out of our strength of 84 operates in around 40 odd screens in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad etc and the rest of the screens are in other areas - T2, T3. So the ratio is almost fifty fifty.
However the complain of the audience is the same everywhere, multiplex is alleged for unfair pricing on F&B?
I am with the feelings of the audience/consumer and I don,t deny the fact. But we need to look at in different ways. First of all, the business of running a cinema hall is capital based. It involves investment. Cost of the technology to exhibit, infrastructure, real estate cost etc. As an exhibitor, we are just traders of a product for which we have no control. We are riding on a product (the movie) in which we have no control. The margin for us is 15-17% and this is on public domain. This is the figure for bigger players; we are in the 10-12 % bracket. For a movie like TUBELIGHT, we are taken for a ride but TIGER ZINDA HAI makes us earn good money. If our industry would have enjoyed a bigger 30% plus margin then there was a scope for working out on F&B for us and the general conception that F&B charges are exorbitant – paying 100/- for popcorn for a ticket priced at the same Rs 100/- would have been addressed properly. Please understand that the audience is coming to watch a movie price at Rs 200/- for which the government charges 28% of GST while going to a posh five star hotel the GST is 18% for a dinner worth 5,000 bucks. Around the world the entertainment taxes are around 5 to 7 percent. As a multiplex, we are not allowed to have our kitchen so we have to buy samosa from outside and sell. If the taxes are reduced from 28 % we will be happy to reduce the price.
What is your offer to promote regional content at your screens?
The market for regional movies is changing, especially in Punjabi, Marathi a good flow of money is observed. We offer discount pricing for regional movies in select areas. For example, we offer 20-25% discount for a Guajarati movie. We as an exhibitor look out for variety in content and relying on particular content is not feasible so regional is growing and there is a good scope.
But there are complains of not getting proper slots/screens?
Yes there are complains and it’s not just the makers of regional cinema who are complaining, we are alleged by the Hindi movie producers as well. See, we are exhibitors and we will be happy to run a movie for long, which brings audience. If SAIRAT has turned into a blockbuster, it’s not because ZEE STUDIOS backed it, the movie has the merit to turn into a winner. We have to get returns. Many a times it is observed that people who are complaining are hiding their shortcomings. Aap picture aachi banao sir, mein 1 screen se 5 or 5 se 15 kar doonga if the audiences are coming.
Can you throw light on the recent controversy between Reliance Entertainment and exhibitors? Why the Friday morning shows got canceled?
In the film industry we all the producer, actor, exhibitor are a team. We should be working together and not just securing our homes. The case over here was that the producer was securing his home by giving OTT rights to his film 3 weeks after the theatrical release. By doing this, the audience may delay watching the film in a cinema theatre unless and until it’s a movie featuring a superstar. Globally there are norms and box office is a major source of revenue for movies. Globally the gap between theater and OTT platform is 120 days. Problem started when OTT was given the access by the producer in three weeks. Now it’s agreed upon 8 weeks, which is applicable to all movies and producers big or small.
How do you see the graph of cinema audience, is there any change?
The graph will change, especially for regional cinema. Call it a threat to Bollywood or a warning signal. With the growing maturity of the consumer and keeping the inflation in mind, the footfalls will be almost the same, it won’t change considerably. The reason why Hollywood has penetrated into our market because they make movies with universal themes, the day we make movies with Indian ethos – BAAHUBALI, PADMAAVAT, TIGER ZINDA HAI people flock in. Yes content driven cinema should be made but cinema with Indian ethos and those with regional roots seems to enjoy the boost in coming days.
The evolution of cinema watching experience and the threat from digital, OTT?
India has a potential of 10,000 plus multiplexes, we are around half way mark only and more avenues will be explored in future. Coming to the threat, we started watching movies without sound, then came the sound, followed by colour, 70mm, 3D, Dolby, Imax and it will keep on adding. Similarly, television, satellite, video, digital, online streaming the OTT industry will also evolve. If you were interested in watching videos online, one day you will be tempted to have a bigger experience, like a street food enthusiast one day would love to get the experience of fine dining. As far as watching cinema on big screen is a passion, the exhibition industry will be evolving and can never remain stagnant.
Miraj entered into production with SONA SPA, MADAARI, what next on this front?
Yes we have serious plans on this front. Talks are on and the announcement will be made in due course.