Asmita in the comments pointed me towards this story, thereby giving her the post-inspiration hat trick (this one and this one and now a third). And it made me start thinking about a bunch of different possible business opportunities in the new interconnected corporate entertainment world of India.
The actual story, from the deccan chronicle here is about V Celluloid, which is an off-shoot of UV productions, which distributed Bahubali 2 and produced Mirchi. They are building a massive screen complex, plus restaurant and entertainment area and hotel, off of a highway outside Chennai.
Oh I have THOUGHTS! First, I love how corporate/not-corporate this thing is. UV apparently has a distribution and a production wing, and started a new sub-company for building this theater. But we can read between the lines and see that this is really all the same company, and their business is one thing-Prabhas.
Well, not just one thing, it sounds like they are an actual company with other stuff going on. But their biggest “product” is Prabhas. He has, as the article puts it, “close ties” with this company. And so behind all that corporate-speak and so on, we can see this is really a matter of taking the Prabhas/Bahubali 2 money, and using it to build a perfect platform for the Prabhas/Saaho money (assuming they get Saaho). Plus any other film Prabhas signs after that, so long as he is willing to continue this unofficial relationship.
(Yep, they are getting it, there’s “UV Creations” on the poster. Also, yay, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy!)
But let’s take a step back and think about what they are actually building. This is a destination experience that they are talking about. Not movies as part of every day life, stop off for the show after dinner, but a special all day family outing, driving out of the city to do it.
There are two ways this could go, one bad and one good, based on what I know from what has been tried in the American context. The “bad” way is what always happens when movie theaters try to go big instead of small. Prices go up, the “experience” is what is being sold, there is a huge initial investment in remodeling and fancy liquor and gourmet food. But they are showing the same movies you can see for half the price somewhere else, so the audience isn’t buying. This is what theaters have been trying in America off and on since the 1950s, this is why 3D keeps rising from the dead, and why wide screen became popular. They want to do something slightly different, slightly “bigger” than what you can get cheap on TV or VHS or DVD or now streaming. They think that is what will bring in the audience.
And it never does. I did a research paper in college on this, went through 80 years of newspaper archives, and the same story came up every time. Big splashy interview with the new owner of the theater, talking about how the audience wants the olden days, the glamour, the event feel of going to a movie and that’s why he is spending so much money on remodeling. Followed six months later by a tiny little note indicating the theater went bankrupt and is now out of business.
So that’s the “bad” option, theater owners forgetting that people come to the movies primarily to see movies, and if there is another theater down the road that is showing the same movie at half the price, that’s where they will go. Right now, India is luxuriating in inflated prices, even if the multiplexes only sell a fraction of the tickets of the single screens (which they do), the ticket prices are so bloated that it doesn’t matter. You can make more profit off one multiplex person than 10 single-screeners, so who cares if your theaters are half empty? You are still raking in the money.
But wait for it. At some point, someone is going to burst this bubble. Some savvy theater owner will figure out how to get the essential elements of the multi-plex experience (air conditioning, nice seats, clean bathrooms-or maybe something else, I don’t know), but at something closer to a single-screen price. And the audience is going to flock to that, the middle way.
This thing here, that they are talking about, this is definitely not the middle way. But this isn’t strictly speaking the multiplex way either. This is something new, movies as a destination. And something old, movies as a family outing.
It reminds me more than anything of “Dollywood”, Dolly Parton’s theme park. It’s based on her star identity, but it’s also just a convenient place to get to and stay at, with nice things to do for the whole family. You don’t have to be a Dolly Parton fan to enjoy it (I assume, I’ve never been because my sister refused to go with me on our last car trip. We compromised and went to Graceland instead. Which was also AWESOME.) It fills a gap in the market, and I think this could fill a similar gap, even if you aren’t a Prabhas fan or even a movie fan, it’s nice to have a place to get to just outside the city where the whole family can enjoy.
(See?? It looks so great! Why couldn’t we go?)
Oh, and one other thing, I get to talk about the Paramount decision again! If you have ever taken film history in America, you are probably sick of the Paramount decision. It’s like the first thing you learn on the first day of class of Film 101.
But just in case you have never had the joy of taking Film History 101, here’s what happened. In the early “golden era” of film studios in the US, the secret wasn’t the glamour and the stars and all of that, the secret was that they had a total vertical monopoly and therefore could guarantee profit.
Every major studio owned their own theater chain. The theaters would only show their films. And theaters that were not studio owned, had a hard time getting those films (which meant they usually went out of business). And so profit was guaranteed. You weren’t competing with other studios to get your films shown, because it was your own theater showing them, it would always show your films. And you weren’t competing for audience share either, because the audience was picking between 3 major theaters, each connected to one of the major studios, or else that funky dirty one that only showed the really terrible movies because it didn’t have a studio relationship.
And then in 1947, finally, one of those funky dirty theaters sued Paramount saying “You can’t do this! You can’t run the entire movie industry top to bottom and squeeze out the little guy!” It went all the way to the Supreme Court, who heard the arguments and went “by golly, you’re right! You can’t do that! This is terrible!” And so all the studios had to sell off their theater chains. And suddenly they actually had to work for an audience instead of holding them hostage. Well, until they figured out a new way to hold an audience hostage (the way distribution companies and movie studios in America work together is a whole other story).
(See that “Viacom” underneath? Now Paramount is part of a whole different kind of monopoly)
Anyway, Indian film never really needed a Paramount decision, because no one ever had enough start up funds to build a massive theater chain network. Until now (maybe). Reliance/Big Cinemas has been around for ages, and no one seems to notice that the same company, somewhere high high up the corporate chain, owns both the theaters and the studio. Of course, Reliance also isn’t really making enough releases to stock all their theaters, no matter what they will always be showing films from other studios.
But this feels like it could be something different. If UV Productions still has the rights to Bahubali and Mirchi, and might be getting the rights to Saaho, that would kind of be enough for this sort of place. A game room, a hotel, a restaurant, and the centerpiece is going to see Bahubali on the biggest possible screen. Especially if, a few years from now, this is the ONLY place to see Bahubali on the big screen.
And that would be fascinating. A throwback to Bobby, Sholay, DDLJ, where it became an experience just to go see it one more time at the one place where it was playing. Only now it’s not in a movie palace in the middle of the city, it’s in a big complex off a highway.