Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn is investing in small-town India’s cinema-going experience

Jack of many trades.
Jack of many trades.
Image: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
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After acting, direction and production, Bollywood star Ajay Devgn is cradling a new venture in the film world: exhibition.

Backed by Rs600 crore investment led by Devgn, NY Cinemas—named after his daughter Nysa and son Yug—aims to set up 250 screens across India in the next five years.

Devgn made his debut in Indian cinema with Phool aur Kante in 1991. He has since acted in over 100 films, directed two and produced more than a dozen in Hindi and Marathi. Devgn also owns NY VFXWAALA, which has done the visual effects for big Bollywood projects like SimmbaBajirao Mastani, and Shivaay.

Now, with the theatre chain, he wants to bring modern movie theatres to smaller towns, with more experiences to entertain cinemagoers beyond what’s on the silver screen. Though the group is still tight-lipped on the exact offerings, it promises to be unique and hopes to create “engagement for every age group, from a child to a teenager to a family to senior citizens, everybody,” says chief executive officer Rajeev Sharma.

NY Cinemas isn’t going to lock horns with a chain like PVR. Instead, it will cater to tier 2 and tier 3 audiences that have disposable incomes but lack good cinemas in their areas.

Below are edited excerpts from Quartz’s conversation with Sharma:

Who are NY Cinema’s competitors and how will it stand out?

Devgn felt the old-time charm of going to single-screens is lost. He wants to bring that back but without compromising on modern amenities and international standards of audio, video, and comfort.

Our unique concept-based cinemas would have more customer engagement, which we feel is lacking today. Not many people stay back in the theatre after a movie, nor do they want to come even a minute before the movie starts.

The experiences we’ll offer will aim to get people to come to the cinema five or seven minutes in advance, take selfies, and hang around the property. And every property is treated differently, right from the construction.

Are these experiences free or built into the ticket cost?

There is a price for the experiences, but it’s very reasonable. The point is not for it to be a great money churner for us but to create loyal footfalls so that people come to our cinemas more than someone else’s—so that we have better occupancy levels. And though we would love to keep it free, at times, things without a price tag get abused and become difficult to maintain. And it’s not built into the ticket price because it’s optional.

How are you deciding where to set up your screens?

We are keeping a balance between metro cities, tier 1, tier 2 towns, and also going pan-India. We started from north and west and have already started making inroads in the south with Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. The idea is to maintain that balance because your economics works only if you have a widespread presence. We’re either constructing them ground up or acquiring running screens where single owners find it difficult to stay in the competition.

How will your tickets be priced?

The pricing strategy varies from city to city, and from town to town. Pricing is done directly in relation to real estate prices but it will be in line with the competition. Also, the cinema is the only place where everybody comes in with the same emotion and walks out with the same emotion. It’s a great equaliser, so it has to be affordable.

Does India already have enough screens? Aren’t footfalls falling anyway?

If we compare to China, the US and multiple other countries, we realise that lots of screens are essential for covering the kind of population India has. Unfortunately, if a vacuum is identified, everyone wants to build a theatre there, leading to oversupply and saturation so footfalls don’t get better. It’s important we spread the wings through tier 2 and tier 3 cities where the multiplex experience is lacking today. There’s disposable income but not many opportunities to go with families in secure environments with air conditioning to get entertained for a few hours.

With the rise of over-the-top (OTT) content on platforms like Netflix and Hotstar, will the cinema-going audience survive?

Both are here to coexist. There is content being made for such platforms. But we also don’t believe the cinema-going experience can be replicated in a house, on your mobile or on a laptop. You have to watch an X-Men or an Avengers or a Sultan at the cinema. The aura, the feeling of being amongst other movie-watchers cannot be replicated anywhere else.