A diamond-studded watch, a private island, a business jet, a chauffer-driven super luxurious car, bespoke anything—luxury is limited only by the imagination. And by the depths of your pocket. Ajay Bijli, 46, an entrepreneur who has made a fortune for himself building PVR Cinemas into India’s largest chain of multiplexes (with a turnover of around Rs 1,100 crore) has no such constraints. But, he says, “I am just very reluctant to talk about it because there is no end to luxury.”
It’s not that he doesn’t live the good life; he merely isn’t in a mad pursuit of the best things that money can buy. There is a Bentley to go to work in, first-class international travel, made-to-measure clothes stitched in the UK or Singapore, secluded destinations for family vacations and a house that’s been under construction for the past 12 years. “The fact that the choices I have made are priced higher than other things is incidental. It is not the driving factor for me,” he says. This is not a show for the world to see and judge.
Many of Bijli’s choices can be traced back to his growing-up years and to the phase after his father, Kishan Mohan Bijli, passed away—that was when he had to find his feet in the world.
It would be fair to say that Ajay Bijli had a privileged childhood. As a kid, he was pampered—he was used to being driven in good cars and travelling first class on holidays. “My dad was fond of Mercedes for the longest time and he was a collector, to the extent [that he would buy] whatever would come on the State Trading Corporation or what was possible to import—and he had a good collection. He influenced me as far as travel and cars are concerned. He would always say that if you are travelling, then travel well. That has stayed with me,” says Bijli.
Growing up in New Delhi, there wasn’t much that junior Bijli was deprived of. There were no gadgets to hanker for, remember. Life changed when he got to Hindu College—he wanted a car of his own. “So dad bought me a Volvo and immediately after that I wanted a Honda; that too he gave me. Then when I got married, he gave me a Mercedes. So I had incremental improvements in the cars that I needed,” he says.
His father, who ran a trucking company called Amritsar Transport, passed away in 1992. Ajay also inherited a cinema hall called Priya in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. The theatre business excited him, especially the potential of multiplexes in a country full of single screen theaters. Building Priya Village Roadshow (PVR) became priority. It was a tough period and the idea of having a good time took a back seat. “After that I became very conservative. Actually the need of the hour was to run the business and take care of the inheritance. At that time people used to wonder why I never bought any cars—whenever something would get spoiled, only then it would be replaced,” says Bijli. It was only after 2005, when PVR Cinemas had achieved a certain scale, that he found time for himself again. That’s when the cars and the holidays reappeared.
What stayed constant was this: A house. Bijli still stays in his father’s home in Rohtak Road. “My mom always used to tell me dukane banao toh ghar khud hi ban jate hai (build a good business and a house will follow). I have spent my entire life building the business and the house never took priority. I am very comfortable where I am now… just that it is not practical to live in Old Delhi. Now, a luxury or a need is to be in South Delhi. That’s one indulgence of mine that I must build a home here,” he says.
Bijli has a decidedly strong view on what a high-end life entails. And it varies depending on the expenditure head. For instance:
(This story appears in the 18 October, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)