Colombo’s movie theatre experience just got a whole lot bigger and better with India’s largest and most premium film exhibition company, PVR Cinemas, having unveiled its newest facility at One Galle Face Mall.
From the reclining seats and ambiance to food and beverage, PVR offers an experience that is new and unique for local cinema lovers. A visit to the tastefully conceptualised facility affirms the new entity would deliver what it promises, a movie viewing like never before.
In an exclusive interview with Mirror Business a day prior to the soft launch of the luxury theatres, PVR Ltd Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Bijli shared his take on Sri Lanka and why the company is positive the new venture would be a definite hit in the island nation, just as in India, if not more.
Following are the excerpts from the interview:
This is the first time PVR has stepped out of India. What is the experience like?
It is absolutely wonderful. We have been exploring the market for a while now, about four to five years. When I came about five years ago and it so happens that we were lucky to meet the right people. Ashok Pathirage from Softlogic was one of the first people from the business community that we met with and also the first we signed with as well.
We then met with the Shangri-La group. This, One Galle Face, is one of the developments that we just couldn’t wait to kick off with. It is a fabulous mall, a great location. We managed to find a way to work together and here we are … four years later.
Why was Sri Lanka considered as the first country to venture out of India?
We were not really looking at international expansion as India is largely under-tapped and there is so much more to do. So, our primary focus was and is India. However, we found similarities and gaps in Sri Lanka. Gaps because there aren’t many multiplexes here and there is a huge movie watching population, therefore a growing demand. Also Sri Lanka is transforming fast. Compared to India, I can see and feel the development taking place. It
The market may not be the same as India but there are similarities, in terms of culture. It is easier for us. We wouldn’t go to the USA, any Western European county or even the United Arab Emirates for that matter; it is too far and saturated. So, our take was to go to a market that is new and growing and Sri Lanka is
How has the investment journey been in Sri Lanka for PVR?
It has been a learning, a first time for us. First time venturing out of India and first-time setting foot in Sri Lanka. When you go to a new country, you face some challenges, there is newness to it. PVR has come out of that here. We have been fortunate that everyone has been very supportive. This is a Board of Investment project and the staff there have been very supportive – same with the other relevant authorities and ministries.
As a foreign investor, what improvements would you like to see in Sri Lanka, in terms of service and support offered?
None, whatsoever. It has been a brilliant journey.
Could you share the investment numbers?
For the PVR Cinema facility at One Galle Face Mall, it is about US $ 4 to US $ 4.5 million – that is for nine screens. For Odel Mall, where it is a seven-screen facility, it is about US $ 3 million.
Would the facility at Odel Mall boast the same premium factor as the just opened facility at One Galle Face?
Most certainly. We do not compromise on quality. We feel that it is not just about watching a movie. It is lot more than that – the atmosphere, ambiance, food and beverage, service quality and much more. We are about high-quality and high design screens.
What makes PVR stand out from the rest?
A number of factors actually. The interior for one, we have invested heavily on that aspect. It is designed by an interior designer from Spain. Then there is the cinemas itself; they are all with recliner seats and sound projection, we identify it is one of the most important aspects to get right and for that a significant investment has been pumped into.
We are also the first to introduce in Sri Lanka a cinema exclusive for children, the PlayHouse.
For our F&B, we have flown down two celebrity chefs from India, who stand ready to whip up a range of dishes in addition to our other food counters. We have a lounge for the Luxe ticket holders. So, it is basically a premium experience all in all. That’s how we stand out. We ensure it is not just about watching a movie on the big screen. It is much more than that.
With regard to ROI, when do you hope to reach breakeven?
I am very positive. I do see people in Colombo wanting to have a good movie experience. There is a movie watching culture that is growing, just like in India. There is a demand for English, Sinhalese and Tamil films and little bit of Hindi too. There is a lot potential. Having said that, I am hopeful we will breakeven in about four years. And this has been our criteria in our other establishments as well.
How is Sri Lanka’s entertainment space different from India?
It is not different at all. Ever since we started working on the property, we have been doing a thorough market research, which is in addition to the feasibility study that was carried out before firming our stance. We have met with many film producers, distributors, food suppliers and others. We find that they are not so different from India.
Things are falling into place, thanks to the support given to us since our setting up period. It will certainly take us time to adjust, just as the case in India as every state is like a country itself. We will get there.
How about the management composition?
The senior management is largely Indian for the moment. The proportion currently is 20 percent Indian and 80 percent Sri Lankan. Our current manager is from Delhi because he knows the flavour of PVR and it is essential for that to be brought in. Over a period of time we will see a transition, which is for the overall management to be handled
Any plans for further penetrating into Sri Lanka?
Currently our focus is on One Galle Face and Odel Mall. However, we are open to other opportunities. Kandy is one area we are looking at out of Colombo. If there is a worthy development, we would certainly explore. We are already getting many calls for PVR to look at new locations and we are embarking on that journey.
How about outside Sri Lanka, any other international markets?
Nothing else is on the platter but we will keep exploring.