Plexes to play India

Group Beautiful building binge skirts exhib struggles

SINGAPORE — For the past few years, U.S. and local exhibs have been battling in vain to develop multi-plexes in India. Now a newcomer has declared it’s embarking there on a megaplex building binge.

Group Beautiful, a subsid of Indian conglom Beautiful Diamond, today announced plans for an 18-20 screen cinema in Ahmedab, a city of 4 million people and the capital of the state of Gujarat.

Rajesh Mehta, exec director of Group Beautiful, told Daily Variety the game plan is to develop at least 10 megaplexes, totaling 200 screens, in major metropolitan centers across India.

The theaters will be 100% owned by Group Beautiful and managed by Belgium-based cinema builder and operator Decatron.

The Ahmedab project, which will be integrated with a convention center, virtual reality ride and retail outlets, was unveiled at the CineAsia movie convention and tradeshow here. CineAsia runs Jan. 28-30 and has attracted about 1,000 attendees, slightly more than last year.

Exhibs encouraged

The confirmation of India’s first megaplex may be encouraging news to U.S. exhibs such as Warner Bros. Intl. Theaters, which put on hold plans to enter India after its first project was nixed by a Communist-controlled provincial government. Other foreign and local exhibs have been frustrated by the scarcity of suitable land and tenancy deals in the absence of major shopping center developments; shortages of building supplies and materials; stiff entertainment taxes; and often uncooperative bureaucracy. The tax on cinema tickets in Gujarat is 50%.

Group Beautiful demonstrated it has won official approval at the highest level as Dilip Parekh, India’s minister for industries and tourism, came to Singapore for the announcement. “There is no (government) aversion to green-lighting new cinemas or to allowing in large foreign players,” Mehta said.

Most theaters in India are singles, twins and triplexes. A co-venture involving local exhib Priya in the construction of the Ahmedab megaplex is due to start in a few months and should open in 1998.

Bullish on Asia B.O.

CineAsia attendees heard a bullish assessment of spiraling B.O. growth in Asia Tuesday when Buena Vista Intl. president Mark Zoradi said at the opening-night dinner that BVI’s revenues in Asia/Pacific rocketed by 30% last year. Zoradi estimated that about 35% of the Hollywood studio’s foreign rentals were generated in the region last year, and he forecast that figure could hit 40% this year.

Jimmy Sunshine, CineAsia’s co-managing director, told Daily Variety he’s hopeful the next edition of the event will be staged here next December.

Organizers say there are several advantages to moving to December from January, including the opportunity to screen some of the hot films debuting in the U.S. in the holiday season, and creating a wider gap between CineAsia and March’s ShoWest gathering.

Organizers are still hoping to secure a print of Roger Donaldson’s volcano epic “Dante’s Peak” in time to screen here Thursday afternoon.

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