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2022 was the year of the South: Ajay Bijli

The PVR Chairman on how the year fared for the cinema industry and what lies ahead for the multiplex brand post its merger with INOX.

Ajay Bijli, Chairman, PVR Ltd
Ajay Bijli, Chairman, PVR Ltd | Photo Credit: supplied pic
Q

You are celebrating 25 years of brand PVR. Your business is very dependent on cinema and fortunes are so interlinked. Have you, during this journey, ever thought of de-risking the business by doing something else too?

I have always been a very big proponent of doing one thing and doing it very well. People picked up one profession, it could be wrestling, body building, or boxing and then have done it very, very well. But only the pandemic made me think that perhaps putting all of one’s eggs in one basket wasn’t such a good idea. That made everybody rethink so many things. So my thought was this – that my business has completely come to a standstill, because as soon as the shutters are down, it’s over. There was no revenue because every revenue is linked. Post pandemic, of course, cinemas are back. At the same time, I’m thinking what else can be done with the PVR brand itself.

Q

So, are you thinking of expanding the brand elsewhere?

The thought is definitely there. However, it is one step at a time. The first step is this INOX merger – and making sure the balance sheets become stronger. Because, the whole exhibition industry got very badly impacted during the pandemic. So we felt that if we come together, first the balance sheet will become better. And then you can think about what else can you do?

We already have a production and distribution vertical, PVR Pictures. That’s something that can be further augmented and enhanced. Our F&B business is very strong. Even in the pre-ticketed area (right now our entire focus is post-ticketed), the kind of chefs that we’ve got on our panel include Chef Saito, Mayank, Sarah Todd... We have a huge F&B department now, and our revenues were ₹1,000 crores pre-pandemic. Combined with INOX, F&B will be around ₹1500 crore. So, that is another thing we can look at. The brand – the combined entity – is going to be known in the marketplace amongst 200 million people who visit us every year. There is equity that has been built. So let’s see what can be done.

Q

It’s the end of the year. Can you share your wrap of 2022 – wasn’t it a strange year with unexpected hits and misses?

There were some extremities but overall it has been fantastic. It is to be noted that two movies did ₹900 crore this year. So if anybody says people are not coming back to cinemas, I don’t know what they are talking about because ₹900 crore is huge. Hardly any movie has done that kind of business, even pre-pandemic. Of course there have been some disappointments. Therefore, people started drawing conclusions. So there was a bit of a dry run in Q2, where some big movies that we thought would do well did not fare well. That’s fine. Life goes on. For instance, Kashmir Files, did so well. Maverick did exceedingly well. Black Panther also did great. Kantara, I am shocked to see how well it is doing.

Q

OTT has been doing very well. Has it affected you?

It is not us versus OTT. I don’t know where this comes from. Look at how you dine. You have food from your own kitchen and sometimes you go out to eat. It is the same in movies as well. There is coexistence. It is just two different delivery channels.

Q

Are box office revenues back to pre-pandemic levels?

Only in the South, I would say. South is probably exceeding the pre-pandemic levels. But here (Hindi cinema), I think the recovery is about 60-70 per cent only.

Q

Do you think the next year would be a lot easier for the cinema industry? Especially given the strong content pipeline?

Yes. Because I think everybody was getting into a huddle this year and thinking about what needs to be done and how consumers will react. And also a lot of content was consumed at home and some habits have changed. The cutting edge stuff was getting into the TV shows. But that has helped, as people have slowly realised what the consumer preferences are, and have tailored content accordingly.

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