Adlabs Films nabs Malaysian cinema chain

Indian group Adlabs Films has bought Lotus Five Star Cinemas, Malaysia’s third largest cinema chain.

Adlabs said simply that it had acquired a majority and controlling stake in the firm, but did not disclose deal terms.

Lotus operates 51 screens across the country and “the chain will have a footprint across Malaysia and will be playing mainstream Hollywood films as well as Chinese and Malay, in addition to movies in Indian languages such as Hindi and Tamil,” said Anil Arjun, senior VP of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, of which Adlabs is a subsidiary.

Adlabs is rapidly building multiplexes to expand its 160-screen circuit within India and acquiring hardtop assets abroad. In March it announced that it had established a 220-screen circuit in the U.S. It also has cinemas in Mauritius and Nepal (Daily Variety, March 27.)

“The company plans to venture wherever there is market for Indian movies, be it the U.S. or Malaysia,” Arjun said.

Malaysia is one of the fastest growing theatrical markets in Asia but remains significantly underscreened. According to government agency FINAS, the country had just 341 screens in mid-2007.

Lotus mainly runs small cinemas outside the biggest cities and has itself been adding properties over the last year. In terms of screen numbers alone it ranks behind Golden Screen Cinemas and TGV, in which Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest was invested until last year, and ahead of Singapore-owned Cathay Cineplexes.

Adlabs’ move is not the first into Malaysia by an Indian exhibition group. Pyramid Saimira, which operates over 250 screens in India, unveiled a joint venture early last year with Malaysian company Asian Integrated Industries. Besides cinema ownership, that deal is intended to create a network of digital cinemas and provide them with distribution services.

News of Adlabs’ purchase of Lotus surfaced the same day as stock market talk that Reliance Entertainment is seeking to sell a 10% stake for $500 million, implying valuation of $5 billion. That compares with the $3.3 billion the company was apparently worth in February when iconic financier George Soros paid $100 million for a 3% stake.

Adlabs’ release slate for 2008 includes “Sarkar Raaj,” “Singh Is King,” “Love Story 2050″ and an animation featuring Tamil superstar Rajnikanth.

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