Mumbai: The future of cinema has arrived—with leather seats, wine glasses and Rs1,000 tickets.
Adlabs Cinemas, an arm of the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group’s Adlabs Films Ltd, is raising the stakes in the battle for cinema goers’ wallets by launching a chain of stand-alone luxury lounges centred around film.
Big buck: Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director of PVR Cinemas
The cinema chain will open up to a dozen independent 6,000-10,000 sq. ft lounges over the next year, loosely based around the concept of its existing “ebony lounge” format that offers audiences reclining leather chairs and waiter service.
“Cinemas are our iconic statements,” says Tushar Dhingra, chief operating officer of Adlabs Cinemas. “We want to set a world benchmark for the cinematic experience. What we create has the potential to set a trend.”
“It is no-holds-barred. Anything can be done. The premium and mass markets in India are the sweet spot. They are largely unpenetrated, and we are well positioned to move in,” he added.
Indeed, several cinema chains are turning to the premium segment seeking to maximize their returns. Adlabs plans the megaplexes launch—“a super premium concept”—across India later this year, where customers who pay up to Rs1,000 for premium tickets will have access to an exclusive parking area and separate side-entrance. Adlabs also launched India’s first “6D cinema” two weeks ago in Agra, allowing audiences the simultaneous experience of sight, smell, sound, touch and motion.
Meanwhile, Fame (I) Ltd, a rival cinema chain, plans to open at least six so-called gold class lounges within multiplexes this year, in addition to the four it runs currently.
“People who buy these tickets include the upper sections of society, wealthy families, and people who hire out the venue for parties,” says Shravan Shroff, Fame’s managing director. “People like showing off to other people, and they want to display that they have arrived in life.”
He added that audiences had taken to the gold class concept, and that it was very popular.
But anecdotal evidence and some experts beg to differ, citing empty cinema halls and exorbitant prices. On a recent weekend, a Mint reporter found herself among the few takers for a Rs700 gold class ticket for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian playing in New Delhi; less than one-third of the seats in the cinema hall were occupied.
“Although this is a fantastic experience and is good value for money, I could get the same at home everyday, without taking the pain of coming down to the cinema,” said customer Gaurav Bakshi.
Adlabs Cinemas will open up ebony lounges, which currently exist within multiplexes, in major cities across India, starting with the first lounge in New Delhi’s Connaught Place, before rolling out in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune. It plans to serve gourmet food and eventually liquor, offer the latest in cinematic projection technology and provide facilities for video conferencing and business events; it will also market sports events and parties.
“The lounges will be a place where you can come and have a good time, and meet with your friends and family,” says Dhingra. “There will be good food and beer, and you can pick the film you watch.”
Although the cost of tickets has yet to be announced, Dhingra said the experience would be priced along the lines of the existing Rs500-750 ebony lounge prices. He declined to disclose investment figures.
Ajay Bijli, managing director of PVR Cinemas Ltd, says that although the top segment does represent an opportunity, the mass market will continue to provide the bulk of the company’s revenues. “I don’t think that stand-alone gold classes would work,” says Bijli. “It is just a way of catering to more than one audience. But, out of a cinema hall of 500 seats, only up to 40 seats would be gold class.”
“We are really targeting the Rs50-60 range. There is enough demand and it is doing well.”
Krishnakali Sengupta in New Delhi contributed to this story.