W Power 2024

Barbie vs Oppenheimer is an 'unusual, unprecedented weekend for India': PVR INOX's Sanjeev Kumar Bijli

The cinema chain's executive director says that this week could mark the turn of the tide for the movie industry, with a slate of promising films taking us through the year. The chain has discounted its popcorn and other F&B prices in the hope of drawing more people back into the theatres

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Jul 21, 2023 11:17:52 AM IST
Updated: Jul 21, 2023 11:50:12 AM IST

Barbie vs Oppenheimer is an 'unusual, unprecedented weekend for India': PVR INOX's Sanjeev Kumar BijliSanjeev Kumar Bijli, executive director, PVR INOX Limited; Image: Amit Verma
 
It’s Thursday evening when we speak, and Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, executive director, PVR INOX Limited, says he has been glued to reading reviews all day.

“It’s an unusual face-off,” he says. “We’ve known the phenomenon of two Hindi movies going head-to-head, but for two Hollywood films, of such different genres, to be so hotly anticipated in India is quite new.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know what he’s talking about. You probably even have tickets booked—or, like the cinema chain’s joint managing director himself, are having trouble scoring tickets for the show you want.

“I’m on team Oppenheimer, and I’m struggling to find tickets for tomorrow… and happy about it,” says Bijli with a chuckle.

Oppenheimer is a Christopher Nolan biographical thriller, telling the story of a theoretical physicist who drove the making of the first nuclear weapons, changing the course of the world, war and geopolitics as we know it. It faces off against Greta Gerwig’s flossy, glossy Barbie, and the tale of what happens when history’s perhaps most popular toys step into the real world. Whether the Barbie and Ken pink parade can take on Nolan’s dark and pacy Oppenheimer remains to be seen—but it seems like in the end, the cinemas win.
 
It’s been a rough ride for cinema chains in the post-Covid era, but Bijli is optimistic about the second half of the year. Edited excerpts from an interview with Forbes India:
 
Q. An exciting week coming up. What are your expectations like?
Both movies are very, very strong, and it’s a very unprecedented weekend. Two Hindi movies coming together on a holiday weekend is a known phenomenon, but two massive English films of two very different genres is new. Both have been getting fabulous reviews. Even before the reviews, the way they were tracking has been very, very encouraging.

So we’re looking at a Rs 4 crore to Rs 5 crore opening for Barbie, and perhaps a Rs 7 crore or Rs 8 crore for Oppenheimer. The advanced sales are looking great.
 
Q. PVR has reduced F&B prices to draw more people in too, at a time when people have been complaining about high popcorn prices…
We just launched this campaign a few days ago, and we’re offering a highly discounted popcorn combo at Rs 99 on weekdays, and on weekends, we’re doing bottomless Pepsi and many such promotions. We’re going to follow trends and see what kind of traction this receives, so we get an idea of how to reduce prices.

The idea to reduce prices for anything, you know, is to encourage consumption. So we hope that people end up consuming more—and by this, I don’t mean per person, but that the strike rate goes up. This means that more people actually end up going to the candy bar and buying food, versus what it was.
 
Q. And on the heels of these big Hollywood films is Karan Johar’s Bollywood extravaganza Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. Bollywood has struggled to draw viewers lately. How much is riding on this film?

At this point, Rocky aur Rani… is looking great. The trailer’s been well received, the songs are well received. Karan Johar is a great director who knows how to appeal to the masses. So like with any movie that comes out, I am optimistic and hopeful that it does well, and I hope that this one does phenomenal business, because it’s got all the ingredients.

And I think the Hindi movie line-up for the next few months is looking very strong. In August, we have OMG2, Gadar 2 and Dream Girl 2. Then comes the big one, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan in September, along with the smaller Sri, with Rajkummar Rao. October is Ganapath: Part 1 with Tiger Shroff, which is looking very strong. November has Salman Khan’s Tiger 3, which is going to be phenomenal. And December is very full now. Ranbir Kapoor’s Animal has gone to December, then there’s Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki and Vicky Kaushal’s Sam Bahadur. Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif-starrer Merry Christmas comes on December 15. So the line-up is very strong for Hindi movies.

What was lacking until now was the supply of films, which is understandable since no shooting was happening in lockdown. Suddenly, you have a lot of films coming out. It’s encouraging that even in June, a movie like Zara Hatke Zara Bachke, which came out of nowhere—it didn’t have a title for a long time and they started promoting it only two weeks before release—did business of Rs 85 crore box office. That’s a good sign, that’s the definition of a sleeper hit for us: A relatively medium-sized film with very little marketing that comes on the horizon and does well.

Also listen: OneThingToday: PVR Inox's challenges, rise of OTT and the post-Covid cinema experience
 
Q. Many of the movies you mentioned for the year’s slate are sequels. Are we seeing the Hollywood model of franchise films coming into its own in India?
There do seem to be a lot of franchise films coming out. If a film does well, it warrants a sequel. I see that it’s coming, but I don’t think it’s as strong a trend here as with Hollywood.
 
Q. What are your thoughts on how cinemas can take on the stiff competition from OTT?
I think we need to make them more experiential. We need to give customers a good reason to come out and watch a movie on the big screen versus watch it at home. The first differentiator, is, of course, the content. Oppenheimer and Barbie are only available in cinemas before it starts streaming.

But again, as a cinema exhibition company, we also have to focus on technology, sound and projection. We are, therefore, investing heavily into formats like IMAX. IMAX, for example, is fully booked out over the weekend for Oppenheimer. That’s the show I was trying to book, but I didn’t get even one ticket for it. That’s because it really distinguishes watching a film on the big screen versus at home.

We’re investing in other luxury formats such as Insignia and Director’s Cut. We really need to make sure that we’re on top of the game as far as our service, our food and beverage, our hygiene is concerned. We need to really make a top-class facility, so that when the customer comes out to watch a movie, it’s worth it.
 
Q. Are you feeling optimistic about the industry now?
Yes, I’ve been optimistic since May. I think that’s when our mood changed. We did well in May and June, and July seems to be on track with Mission Impossible, and three big films still coming out. I’ve been very gung-ho and quite hopeful that this trend will continue.

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