Entrepreneur Asia: Power Players

Entertainment is serious business: Indian cinema mogul

Reported by Oriel Morrison, Written by Connie Tan
Meet the man who transformed India's cinemas

If there's one thing that frustrates the affable Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director of Indian cinema chain PVR, it is the fact that movie screening business is not taken seriously enough by policymakers in the country.

"Entertainment is seen as a bit of a frivolous business in the eyes of the government. They haven't really looked at the overall potential of it. So when I looked at countries like China and the U.S., I feel shortchanged," said Bijli who runs India's largest cinema chain.

Bijli was referring to India's entertainment tax and strict building bylaws that restrict the expansion of cinemas in the country.

The 48-year old Harvard graduate, who is widely regarded as the pioneer of multiplexes in India, has often described the country's entertainment tax as prohibitive.

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At present, there's a 20 percent tax on the gross value of tickets in Delhi, and 45 percent in Mumbai.

"China opens about 3,000 to 4,000 screens a year. We barely manage about 300 screens. It is a staple form of entertainment for lots of Indian people, and I think if a little bit more attention is given to this industry, it can really go to a different height altogether," he said.

Speaking to Oriel Morrison for CNBC's Entrepreneur Asia: Power; Bijli said having the necessary discipline to cope with the high costs is key to survive in the business.

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"We don't get overly optimistic about what the revenues are going to be. We keep them at realistic levels, at least when we're signing a lease. The rest depends on how we maximize our revenues from the footfalls that we generate," said Bijli.

That includes expanding to F&B, and other retail entertainment such as bowling. Nevertheless, the mainstay of PVR business remains very much on movie exhibition, and the company now has more than 460 screens in 44 cities across India.

"Indian films are vibrant and colorful. So I always felt like that transition from the world of make-believe to reality was too harsh. I believe it could become smoother, so even if you're exiting or entering the auditorium, you should still feel a very vibrant, make believe space. That was the idea, and the response was just phenomenal," he said.

It has been about two decades since Bijli embarked on his entrepreneurial journey to build quality cinemas for India, instead of taking over his family's main trucking business.

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Despite the risks he had to grapple with in the early days, it was a journey that he looks back with no regret

His advice to entrepreneurs is to build their business with the same passionate approach. "Find your calling, find your vocation, then stick to it and give it all you've got."

- For more on Ajay Bijli's interview, tune in to Entrepreneur Asia: Power Players on CNBC. The episode will air on June 4, at 5:30pm sin/hk, with repeats over the weekend.