Showing posts with label cinema. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cinema. Show all posts

08 February, 2021

Mall revival - Real or Imaginary?


I have been visiting Malls in Chennai and Bangalore ever since they were open for public after continued lockdowns since Mar. ’20 due to the ongoing Corona pandemic. Mall owners, Multiplexes, Retailers, Restaurants and perhaps every consumer-serving business has been quite badly hit all these months and globally, we have seen many of them go bankrupt or shut down their businesses, while a few are somehow staying afloat amidst all the chaos. In the early years of my career with India’s first seamless mall chain way back in 2005, Bangalore Central I realised how Indians shop and consume – food, clothing and entertainment go together. We are a country that meticulously plans for a movie outing with a date, family members or friends and eventually dress up to visit a Cinema Hall. Therefore, Multiplexes, ranging from 3 screens to 7 or even 8 have been a regular feature at most of the Malls across India and is credited for one of the key reasons for a Centre’s success.



With the first lockdown that began on 25 March, the entire Movie exhibition Industry collapsed at one shot leaving thousands of employees astray as well as Standalone theatres and multiplexes in the lurch. Social distancing being the key advocacy for avoiding contact with the dreaded Corona virus carriers, all public spaces were shut and the entertainment thirsty consumer cohorts turned to Over the Top or OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and the more desi- Zee5 or SonyLiv among a dozen other options. Many small and hitherto unknown, unheard movies made it to the small screen – with a screen size ranging from 5” mobile phones to 10-11” Tablets and iPads to the more popular 13-15” Laptops. In unison, many of us echoed that it would simply make no sense to visit theatres anymore, given that an outing with a family could cost as much as Rs. 1,500-2,000 including the movie tickets, pop-corn+Cola and a meal before or after the movie. 



At one stroke, all this changed. India produces and releases over 2,000 feature films annually across theatres. It took an average 7-10 weeks for the films to hit an OTT screen until early 2020. And atleast 2-3 months until they made it to the small screen through Satellite Tv. Now, they remain just historical facts and nothing more. Bollywood takes credit of atleast 1,000 movie releases annually while Tamil and Telugu produce around 300+ every year. All other Indian language films as well as a few English releases (including dubbed in to local languages) take the rest of the pie. No wonder, that the southern states have more number of theatres and multiplexes though standalone centers have reduced from 12,000+ two decades back to under 5,000 pre-Pandemic and right now, we don’t really know how many are even ready to open their doors full-fledged. While the Multiplex screens have been growing and even now, PVR and Inox, the two top exhibitors have assured to add more screens and ensure safety and hygiene of the visitors, the audience are trickling in slower than anticipated. 



In tamil language, Penguin feat. Keerthi Suresh was the first big outing on an OTT while Surya’s Soorarai Potru, an adaption of the biography of Capt. Gopinath, the erstwhile Founder of Air Deccan Airlines was the first big top hero film to release on Prime. Actor Vijay’s much anticipated Master will remain etched in history and his story to be the first big theatrical outing after the Government allowed full functioning of theatres, much to the chagrin of Doctors, activists and the general public who have been heaving a sigh of relief with lower incidences over the past 3 months in Tamil Nadu, especially with Chennai being the hotspot during the peak season of Apr. – Jun. ’20 when Corona incidences were the highest. The films is estimated to have collected over Rs. 230 crores from Box Office collections, although the calculation of such revenues have always been murky and secretive. 



Amidst all this, did Multiplexes and Malls benefit? Little, to my limited knowledge. The more matured mall rats and multiplex audience have preferred to stay away as I don’t see many takers for the safe viewing of cinemas, especially with so many people crowding at theatres. While Foodcourts are brimming, I saw / see very few patrons walking out of apparel branded stores walk out with shopping bags, despite the deep discounts which the Brands are offering. 



The biggest surprise I learnt recently was BookMyShow, the pioneer of online booking has planned to release movies on their Apps doubling up as an OTT platform! Whoa. Look what the Corona pandemic has done to us! Who would have ever thought that a ticket booking website and App would also host movies on demand on a pay per view model. Fantastic times that we live in, indeed. Whether BMS will succeed in this already crowded space is anyone’s guess. But my worry is how will retailers draw crowds to their stores, especially those in the Malls who’s bread and butter was the more affluent Multiplex audience. We are running short of patience, time and money in the bank. Mall Owners, Multiplexes and Retailers have to collectively take a decision seated on a round table, leaving aside their individual motives and egos. Dropping off Parking Fee for 4W could be a beginning. Or atleast reimburse the fee against shopping, so we draw more footfalls into the malls. Screening older films, yesteryear superhits and perhaps a nice set of Academy / Award winning films could be another option. But waiting for a day when customers would pour-over and just do “revenge-shopping” like the Chinese did - is perhaps a hope that we all want to live with, unless it remains a widely circulated article & not reality.


Wake up guys. We are short of time, money and patience. Repeat. 


23 December, 2019

Music Retail - Retail 2020 (Article #2)

I started my career in Retail in 1997, scooping ice-cream at Basin Robbins' second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfold, I am writing a series of 20 Articles over 20 days (10 in Dec' 19 and 10 in Jan'20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today I have written about the "Music Retail Industry".

I joined RPG Retail as a Management Trainee through campus selection at ITM Business School where I pursued my 2-year MBA. After a 21-day orientation, we were sent to our respective “regions” as per the traditional culture of the then corporate behemoths. And mine was Kolkata, West Bengal. I reached out to my then GM – HR and asked her “why me?”. I had never crossed beyond Tamil Nadu for my vacations or holidays all my life and here, I am being sent to an unknown territory, unknown language, unknown people, unknown everything and that too on my first job. She said, this is one decision you’d never regret in your life. And I haven’t, true to her words.


Musicworld at Park Street, Kolkata was at the time the largest music store in Asia and among the largest in the world only behind the Virgin Music and HMV Stores at London. Spread over 8,000 sq. ft., the Muwicworld store was a cynosure of eyes for the locals as well as those visiting the city – returning Indians, NRIs and Music lovers from all over India and the world. The store had over 30,000 SKUs across 4 major languages – Bengali, Hindi, Western English and Devotional Music. This was the time around the turn of the Millennium when Audio Music CDs in regional Indian languages were getting launched at Rs. 299 per unit. And then, T-Series, the illustrious Music company which took audio cassettes to the masses launched the Audio CD of Dil Chahta Hai at just Rs. 99. Even at the time, the music store would clock a monthly turnover of around Rs. 50 lakhs and that December when I was managing the operations, the store peaked at close to Rs. 90 lakhs in Turnover – audio cassettes in Bengali and Hindi were contributing over 60% in volumes and less than 50% in value terms, while the CDs coupled with Gaming CDs and VCDs contributed the rest. At this rate, I thought this business would never cease to exist. I was wrong.

RPG launched HamaraCD in two forms – one where a consumer could login to the website and choose the playlist; second, a self-service kiosk placed at select MW Stores where one could do the same. The only hitch – it was priced at Rs. 399 for a track list of 12-15 songs (around 300 MB space on the disk, if I recall correctly). This was a revolutionary concept at the time and again, I thought this was probably the way forward. 


My selection into RPG Musicworld was based on multiple reasons – of course, the Management Panel had their own reasons to choose me during the formal rounds of Group Discussion and Personal Interviews. Other than that, I was a trained musician in Indian Carnatic Music starting to learn the “Mridangam”, a percussion instrument at the age of 9. I started performing on stage at the age of 11 and thereafter pursued until I hit a very bad patch in high school studies when my parents decided to discontinue the art for want of having me to focus and score good marks. I restarted learning the art after 2.5 decades from none other my Late Guru's son last year. 

There is another reason for my passion towards Music & Music retail – while at school in Class 9 & 10, I was experimenting my first tryst with Entrepreneurship (unknowingly of course, only to save some from money to eat Samosas after school) by recording playlists for friends for a fee. Here’s how that model worked. I would buy music cassettes of latest Tamil films from the wholesale market in Chennai at Ritchie Street for around Rs. 23 /- (MRP was Rs. 28/-) by cycling 6 km from home in the pretext of attending some group studies with friends or extra tuition classes. There was also a shop nearby where the shopkeeper would rent me cassettes for Rs. 10 for 3 days during which I would record songs from films which I didn’t possess in my library. Then, I would buy empty cassettes for Rs. 12 which could accommodate around 6/7 songs. From the plethora of film songs I had, I would curate a list that my classmates and friends preferred along with a title card, handwritten and sketched with my self-branding and sell it for Rs. 30-35, depending on the demand at the time. From immediate classmates to seniors to juniors, I had a long and happy list of customers who came back to me from time to time. The “venture” was short lived since I decided to focus on whatever spare-time I had on school studies. 

Managing a Rs. 7 Crores pa topline and a healthy profitability in my first job two decades back, my stint at Musicworld Kolkata is the one I cherish among the most in my professional career. I made a lot of stranger-turned friends, some of whom I am still in touch with and we start our chats where we left the last time, of sorts. But more than that, I would wonder how this business could be sustainable in the long term since piracy of music was getting popular around that time, albeit consumers had an inferior experience listening to music. In my first report to the company, I suggested that we also sell CD Players thereby inducing music lovers to upgrade from Cassettes to CDs and once they fell in love with the original and high quality of music through CDs, they wouldn’t prefer pirated ones. Due to various reasons, the company didn’t pursue the idea. 

Musicworld was among the first few brands in India to offer a Loyalty Card known as “Masti Card” wherein the holder of the card would get preferred treatment in terms of discounts and offers across various other retail formats. The concept was a big hit during it’s limited lifetime and there were even local, small-time shopkeepers wanting to be associated with MW Masti Card for the pride it offered to them. I travelled by Trams, Metro Trains, Buses and Taxis to multiple Retail Establishments from Garia to Esplanade, VIP Road to Taj Bengal to induct them into the coveted Club. Such good experiences right in my first job. Later on during my stint at RPG Foodworld, there used to be MW Kiosks with the Chartbuster Titles only and I would take special care of this vertical due to my loyalty and allegiance to Music.

I was also among the first to write an Obit Column for Musicworld when it finally downed its shutters at Kolkata as well as ceased to exist as a concept. Honestly, I saw it coming since the company, for various internal reasons, wasn’t pursuing the digital way forward even as MP3 was the preferred mode of listening to Music until online Music streaming has become the norm currently. That SaReGaMa, the company which was formed after RPG bought over the titles from HMV had a huge repertoire of music across genres (those days in digital form) wasn’t put to best use, perhaps by the company. Very sad indeed.

On Dec. 7, when the Music album of Superstar Rajinikanth starred “Darbar” released in three languages - Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, Gaana App – the online streaming company owned by The Times of India Group (ironically, the biggest competition for Musicworld was PlanetM which was owned by same The Times Group back in the 2000s) had bought exclusive rights for streaming Darbar Music which meant that other Apps like Jio-Saavn, Airtel's Wynk Music, Amazon Prime Music app and Google Music cannot officially stream them. While it’s not clear how much Gaana incurred on this, the market estimate is that the company has paid over Rs. 6 Crores for this exclusive right until the film releases on 9 January 2020. During this period, Gaana expects to quadruple the number of its userbase in South where it has been weak, with a retention rate as high as 20% Month on Month which is again 2x the market average. the song "Chumma Kizhi" from Darbar album had 28 million realtime views on Youtube in 24 hours of launch. And today, I see that the Tamil album alone has 10 Million+ Playouts on the Mobile Music App... Says a lot of how Music Retail is still prevalent, just that the consumption patterns have changed, or evolved if I may say so. 




Times have changed so much that during the Darbar Music launch, there wasn’t any CD which was actually released in the open market. While Music Retail (offline) is almost dead, online Music Retail through streaming websites and Apps is here to stay. Else, why would the young Aakash Ambani pay a premium of USD 100 million to acquire a Music over-the-top (OTT) app Saavn to add to Jio’s portfolio to build a USD 1 Bn entity? 

Picture abhi baki hai, mere dost. 

24 December, 2018

GST on Cinema Tickets

The Union Government of India has recently announced a reduction of GST on Movie Tickets from 28% to 18%. The Film Industry took collective credit for hard-bargaining this issue with the Prime Minister and many celebrities thanked him on social media. However, the average movie-goer isn’t too kicked.


2018 has been very average for the Indian Film Industry with many high profile, high budget Hindi films tanking like no other, notably Shah Rukh Khan’s latest outing “Zero” and Amitabh Bachhan / Aamir Khan’s magnum opus “Thugs of Hindostan”. Needless to say, the only saving grace was Superstar Rajinikanth’s 2.0 directed by ace Director Shankar, his third outing with the mega actor after Sivaji - The Boss (2007) and Enthiran (The Robot) which released in 2010. Produced by Lyca at an estimated budget of over Rs. 550 Crores (a little less than USD 80 million) - perhaps the only Indian film to have been invested so much upon. And to everyone’s surprise, the film has raked over Rs. 700 Crores at Box offices worldwide in its first three weeks of release and is still seeing full occupancies during the Christmas / New Year weekend as well. Karan Johar took up the release of the film in the Hindi Belt and has done a fantastic job indeed. 


I was at Delhi two weeks back and finished my meetings ahead of schedule and was sitting over a Cappuccino in one of South Delhi’s tony Malls. Was quite excited to watch 2.0 in Hindi (after watching 4 times in Tamil already at various theatres in Chennai). The ticket cost for 2.0 in 3D was Rs. 450 including GST. Add to that, my proposed indulgence of Popcorn, Nachos and Coffee and I would have ended up spending at least Rs. 1,000 over 4 hours. At a spur of the moment, I decided against it and went ahead with some other plans. Of the Rs. 450, I guess 28% would have been taxes. So, I would have paid about Rs. 120 as GST which would now be reduced by Rs. 40 approximately (depending on Ticket costs). 

Is reduction of GST on cinema tickets a good move? Yes. 

Will it draw more audiences in to the Cinemas / Multiplexes? Perhaps Not.

Here’s why I reckon so;

Most theatres focus on the F&B offering than the core - Movies. Multiplex chains like PVR and SPI Sathyam (now owned by PVR) focus on the “experience” of watching a movie while standalone Cinemas too have focussed on improving facilities. Sadly, reduction of GST is not enough to draw audiences. We need better content from film makers and needless to say, a sharp reduction in F&B prices. By reducing the prices and focussing on volumes, the Theatre Owners would see a significant jump in occupancy which hovers around 40% on weekdays and approx. 70% on weekends. 



GST is now reduced from 28% to 18% on Tvs - Smart Tvs which come with built-in OTT Apps like SunNxt, Hotstar, Zee5 and of course YouTube. Theatre Owners, hello there?!?

19 August, 2018

Can Malls resurrect?

I went to a once-upon-a-time popular Mall in Chennai a week back – to watch a movie at Inox. I went 10 mins before the show began; during the intermission, I bought a Samosa and Tea for Rs. 200 and left the venue just after the film ended. There was nothing for me in the mall to hang around. No coffee shops, interesting retail concepts, a poorly scattered food court and absolutely uninteresting Mall Management. The toilet was a saving grace, neat and clean as always. 


Chennai Citi Centre was one of the earliest new-age Malls in Chennai which opened almost a decade back. Compared to the previously popular and hugely successful Spencer’s Plaza, Citi Centre managed by the ETA Group preferred to lease retail spaces as against selling them like Spencer’s. The initial euphoria was huge – located on RK Salai leading to the world-famous Marina Beach and the road being used by two former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu viz., Dr. Karunanidhi and Dr. J Jayalalitha for their daily commute. The road was in its best form all these years with Traffic Police stationed all day and night as well as reasonably safe. The Mall opened with Chenai’s iconic Landmark Store, Lifestyle and Inox as anchors followed by Foodworld, Mc Donalds & KFC in the food court and roof top; a slew of national and international brands followed. The “Marina” food court had some interesting concepts offering a range of food and beverage options. Café Coffee Day was conspicuously missing inside. Instead, CCD opened a café right opposite the Mall which continues to be a crowd puller. The Atrium would be used for interesting events and activities.

A few years in to it’s bull run, Express Avenue Mall opened 3 kms away, followed by Phoenix Market City two years back. With a spread of no more than 2 lakh sq.ft for Retail and F&B, Inox Cinemas spread over 30,000 sft, private Office spaces spread over 20,00 sft. and two levels of basement Car Parking, the Mall had little to offer in terms of retail space. As always, Small is Beautiful. Plus, it had a great locational advantage. But the Mall Management let the mall die a slow death for reasons best known to them. Almost all the original Retailers have vacated but for Basics Life and Giordano apart from Lifestyle and Inox. I approached the Mall Management two years back and suggested we could do wonders with what we have on hand and give a run for money due to its locational advantage and easy access to South Madras. They refused to oblige and have remained adamant on letting the opportunity pass by. Even now, the mall is sitting on a gold mine, if only one could take a serious look at what could be done to make it great, once again. 


Citi Centre is not an isolated case. During the Mall boom in India between 2006 – 2012, about 800 Malls of all shapes and sizes were operational at its peak across India’s Top 50 cities & towns. Thanks to a slowing economy since 2013 onwards, uncertain consumer sentiment and tough business conditions, more than half of them have shut down or have morphed in to Office spaces. A recent research report suggested that the Mall vacancies have improved off late and over 80 Malls are expected to open in the next 24 months across India. As we speak about this, VR Chennai opened its doors to the city just a month ago, spread over a million sft. 

So what happens to these Malls which do not get the desired traffic (of customers) anymore? Many people compare this situation to the Ghost Malls in the US, which I believe is not fair. The Indian Economy continues to show strong signs but for some shortfalls here and there. Older Malls can be resurrected, if only the Mall Owners prefer to do so. In our country where most of the Malls are owned by Real Estate companies, their only focus is generating a certain “revenue” per sft. Taking an extra mile to get consumers walking in regularly and keeping them hooked – this is no rocket science. Can be done pretty easily at much lower costs with very minimal efforts. Add to this, inefficient Management Teams in many cases who have never worked earlier in Malls or have a deeper understanding of Retail dynamics. Just that the Mall Owners must come out of their slumber and their fixation for a certain “fixed” revenue model and consider Professional Management. Malls are community centers and Mall owners must connect with the consumers and not just their bank a/cs.
--> --> -->

20 July, 2018

Multiplex & Movies - Convenience or Complex?

It’s been a week since the Maharashtra Government passed a mandate that Cinema goers can bring their own snacks / food items and that the Multiplex owners cannot stop them from consuming the same. The response to this from various sections of the ecosystem has been mixed. While a section of film viewers is excited that they can carry their preferred snacks inside the theatres, another set of patrons are quite upset, so much so that there has been much disdain about this on social media. Some have compared the expected outcome to that of train journeys where passengers would bring parathas and Idlis and how the whole cabin would smell (or stink) of various Indian spices, especially.

On the other hand, Multiplex owners are clearly unhappy. They would be losing a majority of their revenues, estimated at approximately 30% of their Turnover. This would hurt their business economics and may even make a few screens unviable, especially inside Malls where the real estate costs are significantly higher. To give a background, there were about 12,000 standalone screens and less than 50 multiplex screens a decade back. As I write this article, there are an estimated 2,000 multiplex screens (Screens inside a multiplex & not just the number of Multiplexes) while over 4,000 standalone theatres have shut down, unable to cope with the latest improvements in technology, leading to lower patronage of users, and subsequently inability to maintain the screens. Due to heavy investments, Indian entertainment companies are adding no more than 150 screens pa while International players like Cineapolis couldn’t cope with the spiralling costs, which are never offset with premium services such as push back seats, exclusive box areas and so on. In comparison, the US has 40,000 screens and China, about 24,000. In the same tune, the Box Office Market in the US is about $10 billion pa, $5 billion pa in China and about $3.5 Billion in India. The average ticket price in the US is about $8, $5.5 in China while India is at a distant $2.


India makes about 2,000 films pa, 60% of which are from rest of India while 40% is in just one language - Hindi, which has a national appeal. From Amitabh to Shah Rukh, Rekha to Deepika, Hindi film stars have always been able to captivate the imagination of a majority of Indians, undoubtedly. Then there are regional stalwarts in almost every State of India who command record salaries as well as have magnificent BO openings when their films release. Despite all of this, the average time for a new movie to have a pirated version available online is under 12 hours. The July 9 release Kaala feat. Superstar Rajinikanth had its pirated version available by 8 am, even as the film only released in Singapore and Malaysia the previous night. Online activists are quick to bring down the ratings of a film with Video reviews published on YouTube which further minimises the potential of the film even during the first weekend. Interestingly, many films which had lukewarm opening have been able to boost theatre viewership through similar online reviews, positive ones of course, sometimes even rigged/paid. 

The Multiplex culture started expanding when a standalone theatre by the name Priya Cinema in Vasant Vihar area of Delhi set up multiple screens at Malls with its international partner Village Roadshow, which subsequently became to be known as PVR Cinemas. Today, it’s a public limited company having over Rs. 800 Crores in Turnover and has a number of innovations to its credit and is the most preferred Multiplex chain in India with a presence spanning Chandigarh to Chennai, Baroda to Calcutta. An estimated 800 malls of various sizes ranging from 1.5 lakh sft to 1 million sft came up during the peak period of India’s Retail explosion between 2006 - 2014. Therefore, almost every Mall had to have a Multiplex with a minimum of 3 screens up to 12 screens in some cases. Due to high operating costs (mostly rental & maintenance), Multiplexes pegged their ticket prices higher thank standalone theatres. In some states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the Government had a cap on ticket prices which added further strain on their viability. Therefore, most Multiplexes took to enhancing the experience with culinary delights with flavoured pop-corn, designer ice-cream varieties, gourmet food and so on. Therefore, a Samosa could cost between Rs. 40 – 80 per piece (Rs. 20-25 in the city) depending on which city/Mall one was consuming. A portion of Pop Corn came at 100 with higher prices for exotic flavours. There were times when consumers preferred to visit cinema halls just for dining & recreation than watching films. And Multiplex owners weren’t complaining one bit.


Until recently, perhaps 2 years ago when ardent film goers and the public at large felt that the food and beverage costs were so high, that for a family of 3 or 4, the cost of dining was 2 to 3 times the cost of tickets per person, putting heavy pressure especially on middle class families. This led to a lot of offline discussions and online debates, arguments with theatre staff and fist fights at public spaces, making the entire process of watching films at cinema theatres an expensive and an uninviting affair. With the economy slowing since 2016, Demonitisation impact, GST on Cinema Tickets and overall uncertainties galore, (The BJP Government thinks otherwise, though) piracy at unprecedented levels with nothing being done by the Government or Producers or the Film fraternity, the footfalls to Multiplexes started decreasing steadily. So much so, that as recent as Jan-Mar 2018, the average occupancy at Multiplexes has been less than 40% on weekdays and close to 75% on weekends. Except for a few mega hits (across languages), the overall Box Office earnings haven’t been one bit rosy. 

This has created a huge pressure on Multiplex chains with their dependence on F&B much more today than before. I have been organising full shows for the first weekend of every Rajinikanth movie for the past 11 years. I book an entire screen (approx. 220 seats) and distribute the tickets at face value to friends and friends of friends. Over the years, it’s almost been a custom now and many people look forward to the entire experience. I would usually organise one show on a Saturday morning of the opening weekend but due to unprecedented Marketing efforts and expectations galore, I organised 3 shows for the 2017 blockbuster Kabali feat. Superstar Rajinikanth. Similarly, I approached the Multiplex chain (am withholding the name for personal reasons) for the 2018 release Kaala but I was in for a shock this time. The ticket price had already been officially hiked by the Tamil Nadu Government and capped at Rs. 205 (in Chennai); add to this, a compulsory F&B Combo of Pop Corn & Coke for another Rs. 195, taking a single ticket cost to Rs. 400! Forget convincing 200 people, I was not ready to pay such a figure for my own family of six. So, I preferred to watch in standalone theatres, although I watched the film thrice within the first 10 days of its release. The film bombed at the BO and there has been much disappointment among Producers, Distributors & Exhibitors. Sanju, feat. Ranbir Kapoor, a film which was the official biopic of Actor Sanjay Dutt has apparently grossed Rs. 500 Crores at the BO in India and abroad, which is a saving grace to the Industry. Amitabh Bachhan starrer “102 not out” was off the screens in less than 2 weeks and is already available on Amazon Prime. 


Talking of OTTs, there has been an aggressive push by Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar and others with buying exclusive rights from the Producers even before theatrical rights are sold. With lowering data costs (for handheld devices) by the day, multiple options to view content such as Connected Tvs, Smart Phones, Tablets, etc. and the growing popularity of this medium, even pirated film watching has come down significantly as per Industry estimates. I reckon that the Multiplex owners are facing one of the darkest times right now, with lower patronage to the screens coupled with external factors galore. 

By allowing film goers to bring their own food to the theatres, would occupancy levels increase? This move looks more positive for a few reasons – 1) it brings down the cost of watching family entertainers by more than half, thereby making the entire effort less expensive for families than before 2) it could drive a completely new set of the aspiring middle class audience, one that is looking forward to a world class (hic!) experience watching cinemas at Multiplexes but with the ability to offset food costs 3) This move would most importantly make the Multiplex Owners more conscious about how they price their products. I have said this before and I repeat – instead of selling 1,000 samosas a day at Rs. 50 a piece, they could sell 2,000 samosas at Rs. 25 a piece. This is just one example. And with lower food prices, volumes will certainly improve – this is the main reason theatre occupancy is much higher even today at standalone cinemas than at Multiplexes. While one has to put up with spicy masala odour at Cinemas, it is of great cheer and joy to watch a film with a full house audience. And with the core Indian mentality of “sharing & caring” we could see unknown families in neighbouring seats share food & sweets. A novel way to build Communal harmony, perhaps. Much needed right now in India. 

I plan to carry specially flavoured Idlis for the next outing. Anyone wishes to share some?

06 December, 2017

How Cinemas impact Malls

I have a lot of firsts to my credit. The most recent one was to see a movie on the opening Friday with friends, although that’s not a first. The “first” really was that we were only 14 people in an Audi which can seat 196 people, at Inox Cinemas located at Chennai Citi Centre, a Mall of yore located in the heart of South Chennai which has been operational for a decade now. The film, a fictional fantasy is about a unique stone which can cure any disease (sic). Yea, that’s right, we are in 21st Century yet our film makers come up with such scripts. The film’s review itself calls for another article though. The lead actor is Gautam Karthik, who is the son of yesteryear chocolate boy of Tamil Cinema, Karthik who has acted in over 100 films as a Hero. Gautam’s first film “Kadal” was directed by Mani Ratnam, who also directed a film with Karthik in the lead in the mid-90s which went on to become one of his most popular ones – Mouna Ragam. After a few mediocre hits, Gautam is still figuring out his space in the Tamil Film Industry and his latest outing “Indrajit” is an apology for discerning film goers, even the once in a blue moon fellas like me. That the film was nauseating is an understatement. But we still hung on, with Pop Corn, Tea and Veg-Puff for company on a rainy day, which cost each one of us more than the cinema ticket price of Rs. 204. We sat through till the end-credits for the sake of – well, nothing. We were free that day and general time-pass types.

When I was getting out of Inox, I saw an almost empty Mall, at 6.30 pm. This for a shopping centre located in the most prominent part of Chennai with a GLA (gross leasable area) of over 1.50 lakh square feet. The main anchor tenants are Lifestyle and Inox and honestly do not do justice anymore as Anchors, for they have tried every gimmick in the book to draw customers. Even onlookers and jaywalkers do not drop in to this Mall anymore and the atrium of 10,000 sft looks like a ghost town, no exaggeration. Even as I took the Escalators down each floor until the basement, my heart bled how the attitude of the Mall Owners has led to utter deterioration of the precincts. There is no Coffee Shop, no Restaurant, no place to sit for a while, no nothing. Just a few shops who sell some random stuff and somehow make ends meet.


Adding insult to Injury, I had to cough up Rs. 90 for Car Parking charges upon exit. I actually asked the Parking attendant if it is fair to charge me for parking when there were only a handful people in the Cinema and we still gave the Mall a business of over Rs. 2,000 by the three of us. This was about 10 days back. The guy gave me a puzzled look, guessing I must be yet another Mall ranter. He was perhaps not mindful that his job is at stake should the Mall shut down in the near future. Perhaps, they may not. The Dubai based Mall Owners would probably keep funding the business as long as they can.

On 5th Dec. 2017, the Tamil Nadu State Government announced that Cinema Theatres must charge no more than Rs. 20 as Parking Charges for 4 Wheelers and Rs. 10 for 2 Wheelers. However, like any other G.O. this one doesn’t specify if the rate is per hour or for one show. The ambiguity is not going to help the theatres much, so they would perhaps choose what’s convenient to them anyway. The G.O. also doesn’t include Malls in to this order while there is already a local court ruling that Malls cannot charge exhorbitantly for Parking charges which has been further challenged by the aggrieved parties. The local Government has also said that next in line would be controlling prices of food items. Again, there is already a Court ruling that Prices cannot be different (more in this case) for branded products elsewhere other than Cinemas. This has somewhat been streamlined although items sold in loose such as Pop Corn & Nachos, food items like Burgers, Puffs, Samosas, etc. and aerated drinks sold by the Cup as well as Tea/Coffee do not fall in to this category. Some solace for the cinemas.


For over a decade and a half ever since the Mall revolution took over our lives in India, (Multiplexes which have been a part of it) it has been commonplace to see Cinemas charge heavily for the food and beverages sold to compensate the operating expenses. For Ex. Even though we were just a dozen plus people in the Audi, Inox had to still run the air-conditioning, have a person to issue and verify tickets, serve food and beverage and of course, clean the premises before the next show begins. Their costs do not come down with reduction (and vice-versa) in number of audience and therefore need to keep up with their costs.

This is somewhat akin to what the great Indian Democracy has been doing since Independence, with its somewhat socialist and communist ideals – Rob Peter to pay Paul. The Government subsidizes the poor by charging tax on those who can afford to pay and consume products and services. No wonder, India has one of the highest rates of Income Tax in the world (with less than 15% of the population paying Taxes!), and so are the Cinema Ticket prices. Unlike the USD 1 trillion Economy which the Indian Government manages, the cinema exhibitors as well as Mall developers and operators are not sitting on cash troves anymore. Each penny (they earn or spend) matters a lot and hence this concept of overcharging those who come to watch movies to counter their losses.


I have argued earlier that with the advent of OTTs, forget pirated copies, even new films unless they have top star cast or high budgets will not have takers at the Box Office. Veterans like Kamal Hassan have tried to release their films (Vishwaroopam as an example here) on Satellite Channels along with theatrical release which has seen stiff resistance. Recently, a short movie by the name “Lakshmi” released on YouTube and received rave reviews, giving the Director and the Crew enough exposure. Perhaps if the film is made full-fledged, it may attract more crowds at the theatre.

So who is to blame for this misery – of empty Malls and emptier Cinema Halls? Many people squarely blame the penetration of E-Commerce in India. By numbers, E-Commerce Retail accounts for just 1% (Yes, ONE Percent) of India’s total Retail business size. And for most Indians, watching a movie and shopping (in a retail store) is almost an Entertainment. They continue to spend their time on entertainment, but not anymore at Malls and Cinemas. 

Is anyone hearing? I don’t think so. Can something be done about this – Umpteen stuff can be done. It wouldn’t cost a lot of money to draw customers and audience in to Malls and Multiplexes. Reducing Parking Ticket charges is just the beginning. There’s a lot more than can be done. 

Is there willingness to do so by the Malls Operators? Hell, Yeah. But what’s topping them? Even I am confused. Why would someone not want to welcome those who wish to be.

19 July, 2017

GST at Cinema Theatres

GST is the most searched term, perhaps in the past 30 days or so. India transitioned to GST on the midnight of 1st July 2017 with a special session of the Parliament, which was attended by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet including members of the Opposition. Much has been spoken about GST so I am not going to delve in any further. But I am presenting my views on how GST in Tamil Film Industry is affecting the trade.


In Tamil Nadu, there was no VAT on cinema tickets prior to GST. However, there was an Entertainment Tax @ 30% on the ticket prices. The DMK Government, when they claimed power in 2001 provided a reprieve to the Tamil cinema Industry for the said Entertainment Tax if the film had a title in Tamil and was provided a U Certificate among a few other clauses. That’s when Sun Pictures was floated (a division of Sun Media Network which runs Sun Tv & 45+ channels in four regional languages). The reprieve was used by most Producers with fancy Tamil titles including the all time highest grosser of Superstar Rajnikanth whose film directed by Shankar was titled “Enthiran” meaning Robot in Tamil.


The ticket prices in Tamil Nadu have been capped at Rs. 120 for Multiplex screens and Rs. 100 for standalone Theatres. The 120-cap was inclusive of 30% ET, which means the actual earning to the Theatre Operator was only Rs. 84. However, due to the largesse by the successive Governments, the theatres were able to earn extra – the ET collection was not passed on to the Customers, rather pocketed in to their kitties – obviously because the Producers knew they could hard bargain with the Exhibitors for a higher Minimum Guarantee & higher Revenue Share as well. This vicious cycle has been going on for a while with 9 out of 10 cinemagoers unaware of the same.

On June 30th 2017, the TN Government passed a mandate where the local body tax was applicable at 30%, which was over and above the GST. Cinema Exhibitors got in to a huddle on the 1st of July and decided to protest the TN Government’s decision and shut down the screens for four days from 3rd – 6th July 2017 incurring a loss of over Rs. 400 crores to the Industry. TN Government decided to put the levy on hold and allowed the Theatres to operate as per old norms.


Now here is the catch; GST had just replaced the Entertainment Tax and was 2% lower. Which means, the ticket prices should have gone down or remained as they were. But the smart industry guys have played their cards well by adding 28% GST on to the Maximum Ticket Price of Rs. 120 which is against the spirit of GST implementation. Interestingly, neither the Central nor State Government have taken cognizance of this issue and cinema goers have been forced to shell out more from their pockets. With the already sky-high costs of Pepsi, Coke, Popcorn and other Food & Beverages inside the theatres, regular visitors have been dissuaded leading to a 30% drop in tickets sold. If this trend continues, more footfalls will reduce and would have a deep impact on the film exhibition industry. A few star-studded movies are in the pipeline, which will decide if this move by Cinemas to pass on the GST to customers will have a significant impact. With burgeoning OTT Apps & ever increasing movies screened illegally on websites, the fate of the film industry is facing a Damocles Sword.

12 June, 2016

Is it Game Over for Malls?


Whose fault is it, I wondered, when I entered this iconic location last weekend. The Mall was nearly empty on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Car Parking area, which is the core identity of any Mall or Shopping centre such as a Retail Store or a Hypermarket was barely full, with a few cars parked intermittently.


The ground floor has a Mercedes Benz Car parked in the atrium, with curious onlookers not even sure if they would like to go closeby. Basics, which has won the hearts of Chennaites being a local brand with an International appeal has shut store. And so have so many stores. Lifestyle Department Store, the Anchor store of the Mall wears a dull look. The security guard at the entrance seems unhappy and bored with almost no visitors for a while. Even some of the food outlets and a café which were doing some basic business seem to be shut. I walked up the Escalator and was surprised to see empty stores all over!



The Foodcourt was the saddest. Half the counters were shut. The one or two who were functioning were neither providing tasty food nor were bothered about customer service. They were just serving a need, of thirst and hunger and nothing beyond. The dining areas was hardly populated, with many tables not even having chairs, forget patrons. Those who were having a meal were merely passersby and I couldn’t notice even a few of them with shopping bags.


McDonalds continues to attract crowds, perhaps the brand pull makes all the difference. The play area did have some crowds, but not sustainable to send them to other parts of the mall.


Inox Multiplex with half a dozen screens was barely empty, with 4 new releases this week. That food prices in the canteen area of Inox is a put off is another blog column by itself! Even then, people should come to watch a movie in the weekend? That was also not to be seen.


Despite being in the centre of the city (and hence its name), why is the mall so empty? What went wrong with the Mall which was once the pride of Chennai? A decade back, rental costs in the mall used to hover around Rs. 180-300 per sft. Now there are hardly any takers. Retailers have shunned the mall. Food Outlets, which would anyway attract crowds and make some decent revenues seem to dislike being in the Mall. Whose fault is it anyway? Is it that the customers walked away from the Mall to bigger and better options such as Express Avenue Mall which is about 5 kms away? Or have they gone farther to the likes of Phoenix Market city or Vijaya Forum Mall?


This Mall has huge potential given its location, a stone’s throw from the Marina Beach and easy access from the rest of South Madras. It has enough parking space for shoppers, enough shopping space, cinema, foodcourt, play areas, what not. With a little bit of effort, this Mall can be turned around. Will the authorities get a good consultant and work in the renovation? Time will tell.

A Firefly finally takes off

Monday - 22 Jan. ‘24 is a very important day in my professional life. I complete eight months today in my role as Executive Vice President a...