Rahul Puri Exclusive Interview - Muktacinemas Offering affordable luxury

How did you come up with the idea of having your own brand of multiplexes?

Mukta has always been involved in distribution. We were one of the first companies to have a nationwide distribution presence and from that, our programming business, where we booked content for many multiplexes for a commission, was born. This business is now worth almost `250 cr in top line and it gives us huge strength and brings great understanding of the market. Hence the move to the exhibition business was logical as we already had in place the relationships to tie up the content for all geographical markets — coupled with a keen understanding of how to efficiently and effectively produce high quality multiplexes, we entered a market that we believed was underserved and had a huge potential for growth.

The relations between production houses and theatre owners often turn sour. Is that the reason behind starting your own multiplex chain?

Not at all. We have always enjoyed good relations with producers and exhibitors. Infact, in the strike of a few years ago, we were perhaps the only party with Reliance, who were neutral due to our interests as a producer, distributor and also in the exhibition side with our programming relationships. I think our strong relationships within the industry across the board helps us in our exhibition entity immensely.

Many production houses are going completely in-house these days. Is Mukta Arts going the same way considering they already have a production and distribution company?

Well we are now a completely integrated company. Exhibition now links us in the value chain like no other company. From our interests in producing talent in education all the way to having the content that talent creates delivered to the customer. I think Mukta exists in these areas because each of them provides real opportunity for our business and of course there is a large benefit to be gained from being present across all areas.

How do Mukta A2 Cinemas aim to be different in service and experience?

We aim to supply our patrons with a very homely feeling. Each theatre intends to be the place where patrons feel comfortable. We localise the content, the food, the experience to match our patrons tastes and needs. We then ensure that our managers and staff understand our regular customers, know their names, their consistent orders, etc. We believe this adds to anyones overall experience at a theatre and therefore adds to loyalty to that experience. Our theatres aim to imbibe the immortal line from the TV series Cheers. ‘The place where everybody knows your name...’

How technologically advanced are your cinemas in terms of picture and sound systems? Would it have Dolby Atmos, the latest innovation in sound?

Our theatres are on the cutting edge of technology both in picture and sound. We are using 3D projection both in 2K and 4K and have dolby surround as standard. Some theatres will be equipped with Atmos and others with Auro depending on the need and the market in which the property is in. We have used the best reclining seats so patrons can be extremely comfortable and enjoy the movie in a relaxed manner. Without question our theatres are extremely high quality, even in some smaller centres where these facilities are not available.

Share something about the technicalities of the theatres (Capacity and number of screens)

We currently have 24 screens running and a seating capacity of about 5,500 per show. The coming months we will be launching another 5 properties which will take our screen number up to almost 40 and double our capacity. How do you aim to be cost effective to the audience considering it’s a multiplex with high-end facilities?

We operate on a different model with the mall owner where the theatre is based. As we aren’t paying out high fixed rents, we can afford to keep prices at a level where the patrons can pay comfortably. We have properties in Andhra Pradesh where the pricing of tickets is regulated by the State too. In addition, I will say we are also working hard to crack the best deals to keep our investments at a good size so even a lower ticket price becomes viable in that case. However, we are not running low cost theatres. We are running affordable multiplexes.

There are already a lot of multiplexes around. How do you aim to initiate brand awareness?

It is getting hard as most of the competition provides the same technology and the same content as we do. Some are well established as well as compared to us. I think its about the experience of the customers. We have only been around for a few years in Baroda and Ahmedabad but have established ourselves as a prominent cineplex in the locality and are the first choice for patrons who wish to consume English content in that market. I think brand building is about that. It’s about finding a niche and delivering to customers of that niche in a way they want to be serviced. Mukta A2 Cinemas will work hard to do that and we will build on that with the usual tools of brand awareness.

Being a part of Brand Mukta will help or create more pressure for brand building?

I think it can only help. Mukta is a well-known and well respected brand. So is Subhashji who is our founder and Chairman. Mukta A2 Cinemas though has to establish its own brand and its own credibility. However well-known the Mukta brand is, this business can only imbibe those qualities but it still has to deliver them itself and I believe we have a strong management team in place.

How do you plan to popularize regional cinema which have a limited release? Would you have special shows?

The geographical regions our properties are in means that regional films have a pride of place in our product catalogue. We are present in the heart of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra, hence all these locations need constant inflow of regional content to service the patrons. In Telugu its easy as they make over 250 films a year and even Marathi has seen a marked increase in the number and business of its films. I think Regional cinema, like say International cinema is a key component of any multiplexes product offering and we would continue to give it a strong place in our programming line-up depending on the property.

Which other cities do you plan to expand to?

We will next open in Bhopal, Panvel and a second theatre in Mumbai in Goregaon (W). Other properties lined up are Aurangabad and Nainital plus a number of others across the country. We are not looking to focus on any geography but expand into cities and towns where there is a strong capacity for cinema viewing.

Do you think having own set of cinemas might affect Mukta Arts films’ deals with other theatres?

I don’t think so. Like I mentioned, we have managed these relationships now for over 30 years. I think other companies will welcome Mukta A2 Cinemas due to it delivering great numbers in terms of occupancy.

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