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Now showing: Brahmastra’s success highlights changes Indian film business


Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra is a gripping watch. The fight between good and evil with weapons made of fire, water, and other elements has been brought alive with some stunning visual effects by Prime Focus. Two weeks after its release, Hindi cinema’s first attempt at an alternate universe had grossed nearly Rs 400 crore worldwide.

Brahmastra’s success highlights the changes the Indian film business is seeing as people return to the theatres. “Audiences want spectacle, larger than life cinema. The more intimate storytelling is for OTT,” says Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media.

Two years of gorging on global and local content at home has not just changed palettes, it has changed what Indians expect from the theatrical experience. “It is no longer just about the film. People are coming for the ambience, the lounge. There is a strong need to go out, group sizes are larger now,” says Gautam Dutta, CEO of the 854-screen PVR Cinemas.

This need to live life king-size, to experience things fully has had a cascading effect on everything — footfalls, average ticket prices, the kind of seats being sold, money spent on food and beverage (F&B), and the kind of films that are working — as you will read below.

The pandemic had wiped out 90 per cent of the top line of all theatre chains. The Indian film business collapsed from Rs 19,100 crore in 2019 to Rs 7,200 crore in 2020. The first quarter of the financial year 2022-23 changed that.

Inox, Carnival, PVR and Cinepolis, among the largest theatre chains in India, have had a great quarter with hits like Gangubai Kathiawadi and RRR. Most have crossed a third of their annual revenue in a normal year, in the quarter itself. “In March, April, May, we performed better than pre-pandemic,” says Vishal Sawhney, director of the 468-screen Carnival Cinemas. “The industry average is 125,000 footfalls per screen per year. Post-Covid that is the direction we are moving in,” says Devang Sampat, CEO of the 416-screen Cinepolis. Just PVR and Inox put together have sold more than 43 million tickets in the first quarter.

A rising proportion of these are premium seats. “The average occupancy of recliners has gone up; they contributed 6 per cent to overall footfalls in Q1 against 4 per cent in FY 2019-20,” says Dutta. At PVR, screens with recliners now form 66 per cent of all new screens opened in 2022-23 against 22 per cent in 2018-19. This has pushed up average ticket prices.

This need for the premium experience has created an upward push on F&B spends, which have shown a startling rise of between 20 and 50 per cent across the business (see chart). Inflation, which is roughly 7 per cent, cannot alone account for this rise. “Inflation is one part, but the buying habit is also changing. More people are coming to the concession (stand). Earlier, people would go out for dinner and movies. Now, the option is to have dinner at the cinema,” says Sampat.


Food, fun and cinema

Much of this has been in the making. Typically, theatre chains get 50-60 per cent of their revenue from ticket sales, and the rest from F&B and advertising. There may be months when no film works. Globally then, F&B and advertising helps de-risk the business. With that in mind, most of the biggies have been investing in food variety long before the pandemic.

For almost three years now, the 702-screen Inox has had a tie-up with ITC’s ready-to-eat, gourmet brand, Kitchens of India. You could walk into an Inox and order rajma chawal, biryani, pulao among a host of dishes without having to buy a ticket. Since the pandemic began, PVR and Inox among others have been retailing their food on Swiggy and Zomato. And over the last eight months, “we are doing a lot of culinary sessions with expert chefs in our properties”, says Inox CEO Alok Tandon.

Celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani, who designs the menu at Inox’s Insignia (a premium brand), holds a cooking session at, say, Inox Lucknow or Pune. The audience of 50-60 usually includes food writers and bloggers. He tosses together some food, engages with the audience. The idea behind this experiential marketing, says Tandon, is to convince people that multiplexes can do gourmet food.

This, is turn, has helped push F&B spends from Rs 74 per head in the year ending March 2019 to Rs 96 in the first quarter for Inox. Over the same period, PVR’s F&B spends went up from Rs 91 per head to Rs 134. Over the last decade, it has invested heavily in everything from gourmet restaurants and food to premium lounges that offer a fine dining experience.

The more significant change is that “consumers have become choosy”, says Sawhney. “They are more brutal about rejecting a film,” feels Kapoor. The tepid reaction to Laal Singh Chaddha and Liger, and the big welcome to Brahmastra are cases in point. “Consumer taste and their expectation from content have changed after the lockdown. This is the most significant change in the last 5-6 months,” says Tandon.

Studios and filmmakers might want to take note.


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