Features

Multiplex = Multi-ple Profits?

 

Box Office India pits ‘mass’ appeal against ‘class’ appeal and asks: Is the multiplex-goer a figment of our imagination? Does the multiplex really multiply profits?

What’s the similarity between Wanted, Om Shanti Om, Ghajini, Race, Partner, Krrish,

Dhoom 2, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Welcome and Golmaal Returns? Apart from the fact that these are some of the industry’s biggest box office hits, they have also broken the myth that ‘movies do well only at the multiplexes’.

It’s a myth that took root a decade ago, with the advent of multiplexes in India. This brought about a shift in audience profile. More precisely, it seemed to divide the audience into the multiplex-goer who was young, urban and contemporary; and the single-screen-goer who was 40-something and content with more classic themes and sets. Clearly, the multiplex seemed to enjoy a winning advantage.

So with the multiplex boom, producers and directors thought they had found a winning formula — grab the multiplex-goer and your film was bound to be a hit. Or had they? Does restricting a film’s audience to multiplexes enhance its profits?

Evidently, the boundaries aren’t set in stone. Before the multiplex phenomenon, producers (Chopras, Johars and Bhansali) raked in the big bucks from overseas revenue through the NRI audience.

That hasn’t changed. The only difference is that they have found another target — the urban multiplex-goer.

Still, some producers argue that if you want to turn your movie into a moneyspinner, rule number one is you don’t restrict its audience. And that’s precisely what they did with the films mentioned earlier.

Take Wanted, for instance, a film that took two years to make. The promos clearly suggested that the film had mass appeal. But that didn’t deter producer Boney Kapoor, who released his film in both multiplexes and single-screens. It was a risk that paid off, with the singlescreens scoring over multiplexes.

“The content of Wanted was very apt for the masses and that is why the film was a hit. With the advent of multiplexes, the audience that patronised single screens had almost disappeared. Films also lost a chunk of revenue through piracy. But due to films like Wanted, cine audiences have started coming back to enjoy films at single screens,” muses Kapoor.

Distributor Tolu Bajaj says, “Most single screens have been suffering due to lack of suitable content. The success of films like Ghajini, Welcome and Rab Ne… in single screens is an eye-opener for producers who have been partial to the multiplex audience.

Producers are also shying away from making mega-action movies that traditionally do well in single screens because they are twice as expensive to make. The execution they demand and the special effects and action sequences require a lot of money,” Bajaj says.

Let’s rewind to Ghajini, an action flick released almost a year ago. From the word go, this project was a gamble. Casting Aamir Khan in a Sunny Deol-like avtaar was definitely a huge risk.

However, slick promos and even slicker marketing (Hail, Aamir Khan!) and, of course, exquisite stunts made this project click not only with the masses but also with the classes.

Result: Ghajini was one of the biggest hits of all time, grossing net collections of Rs 115 crore at the box office; Rs 60 crore being the distributor’s share alone.

The single screens accounted for 55- 57 per cent business and multiplexes 43 per cent. Lesson: Release a film in both multiplexes and single screens and it’s likely to be a hit.

Renewing faith in the single screen was Welcome. During its release, the distributor (Studio 18) and multiplex owners squabbled over profit-sharing. So Studio 18 went ahead and released the film in single screen cinema halls. The rest, as they say, is history.

Says Aman Gill of Studio 18, “There are more single screens in India than multiplexes. So a major chunk of revenues comes from single screens. Alas, producers are not churning out enough single-screen friendly content and films with a huge mass appeal.

Movies like Ghajini, Wanted, Krrish, Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi garnered almost 60-65 per cent revenue from single screens. The penetration of these films was much higher due to the star cast and also because they were marketed well.”

Now this may sound strange but most tradewallahs believe that Wanted has brought the singleplex back into vogue. But the question is: were audiences ever shying away from singleplex? Not one bit. A quick calculation of the highest grosser proves that they had never left.

If single screens seemed to have lost their shine, this has more to do with the fading conditions of the cinema halls themselves than with the audience. Owners of these cinema halls must realize that if you offer good cinema and great ambience, the audience will come.

Pankaj Jaysinh, Chief Operating Officer, UFO Moviez India Ltd says, “Some single screen cinema halls are investing in renovation by installing reclining seats, surround-sound systems, improving airconditioning and other amenities. This is really crucial. Regardless of content, if the cinema hall is not up to the mark, footfalls will dip.”

The proprietor of Bharat Cinema in Bhopal will easily second that, investing Rs 90 lac for renovation so that it could screen new releases. Within the first three weeks alone, the cinema owner recovered close to Rs 21 lac!

Some single screens in Mumbai, like Dreamland in Grant Road and Paradise in Mahim, have invested substantial sums to install digital equipment and improve the ambience.

Jaysinh says, “While earlier, a distributor was reluctant to have a day-date release at cinema halls like New Shirin in Mumbai, post-renovation, occupancy has been pretty good.”

However, Ramesh Sippy, Director, Raksha Entertainment Pvt Ltd, points out that renovation doesn’t necessarily translate into good revenue as there are some places where cine-goers are not willing to pay more despite lavish interiors.

“Single screen cinemas can only hope that producers stop concentrating on films that are ‘anti-single screen’. Films should appeal to all sections of the society and not just the elite audience,” Sippy says.

Here’s another myth: Multiplexes bring in more revenue because ticket rates are higher. Let’s not forget that producers and distributors have inbuilt costs such as rentals and profit-sharing with the multiplex.

Aditya Choksey of PVR Pictures, Indore, says, “While multiplexes have high rentals and an almost 50:50 profit-sharing ratio, the net revenue generated by single screens is high.”

Over the last financial quarter, most multiplexes have had thin occupancy rates mainly due to high operational costs. Jaysinh says, “It’s like being caught between the devil and deep sea. There is a certain class or environment that multiplexes (especially multiplex chains) need to maintain. The quality of staff required to do this does not come cheap.

“Due to these exorbitant operational costs, multiplex owners have high overheads. Smaller chains can afford to be more flexible. If they lose money, they can downsize on staff and so on.”

Over the last decade, the film industry has undergone a transformation. Earlier, a film used to be released with only 300 to 400 prints and therefore it could not reach smaller towns and cities. All that has changed thanks to digital formats.

Adds Dilip Tandon, Proprietor, Indra Films, “The mushrooming of multiplexes has hampered the growth of single screen cinemas but in the southern states, single screens still account for as much as 90 per cent of business.”

But all is not lost. Take a look at the line-up during the festive season. Says Chandresh Daftary, VP, E-City Digital Cinemas, “Films like De Dana Dan, Kurbaan, Rocket Singh and 3 Idiots are likely to see good footfalls across most single screens in India.”

For die-hard cine-goers, there’s no replacing the larger-than-life single screen experience!

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