Plexes pump B.O. volume

PVR creating supertheaters for the masses

With multiplexes helping to drive the Indian box office, it’s no wonder the battle to build them is heating up.

Plexes in Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Kanpur and, recently, Kolkata — a total of 30 in all — have driven up earnings for Hollywood films in the past year and a half by as much as 75% to $20 million. Bollywood pics have soared at the B.O. by as much as 60% to $250 million.

PVR, India’s first plex chain, owned by Delhi-based Bijli Group, is adding two luxury auditoriums to its five-screen multiplex PVR Gurgaon, located near Delhi, in order to draw the kinds of urban, sophisticated viewers increasingly targeted by plexes.

The so-called Cinema Europa features oversized reclining seats and includes preferential access to the Europa Lounge, a bar and restaurant with a movie menu that provides more than the customary film snacks. A $5 ticket to the cinema — compared with $2 at other PVR salles — includes a 20% discount coupon for food and drink at the lounge. Additionally, patrons can arrange for their meal to be brought to them, PVR managing director Ajay Bijli says.

Inaugural screenings include “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” Hindi-lingo “Maqbool” (based on “Macbeth”), “Le Divorce” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”

PVR’s expansion plans focus primarily on Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The group is developing an 11-screen multiplex in Bangalore, with an eye toward several five- and eight-screen plexes in Mumbai and a five-screener in Hyderabad. PVR has tied up with Indian investment firm ICICI Venture to fund a third of the $22 million expansion.

Bijli says PVR is targeting a more than fourfold increase in revenues to $55 million by 2005-06 from the roughly $13 million it collected in 2002-03. It’s part of a boom of 50 plexes — and 200 screens — expected to be built by exhibs on the subcontinent over the next two years.

That’s good news for both Hollywood and Bollywood — and for cinephiles.

“With the building of more multiplexes, films aimed largely at the urban and sophisticated class of viewers would start getting released in Indian theaters,” says one local.

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