The Gold Rush

The occupancy at the club class theatre at R Deccan
With multiplexes in Ludhiana and Malegaon sprucing up to include the VIP seats, Gold is the new cool

Mumbai-based Manish Purohit wanted to celebrate his first job as a bar consultant with his family. But he wanted to do more than take them out for a dinner or give them gifts. Being a family of foodies and movie buffs, he booked seats instead in BIG Cinemas' Cine-Diner at Ghatkopar. There, they watched Guzaarish over a three-course meal, all under Rs 5,000. "Though we watch almost every big film at the cinemas, my family had never enjoyed this kind of an experience. A mini-theatre, comfortable seating, an intimate setting and a specially-designed menu was the best way to celebrate my new job," he says.

Purohit represents that section of audience that constantly wants to enhance its movie-viewing experience. With the burgeoning multiplex culture, cinema halls across the country want to make their viewers feel privileged. Though BIG's Cine-Diner is a one-of-a-kind facility, most multiplex chains today either have separate VIP lounges with recliners and blankets, special menus and customised service or a few designated rows that offer similar facilities.

According to the data with multiplex chains, regular takers for such facilities are mostly high income individuals. "Given people's passion for movies, even businessmen, families of politicians and some VIPs like to watch films on the big screen," says Delhi-based Jayendra Banerji, Senior V-P of Operations, Satyam Cinemas. This has the Skybox section priced at up to Rs 600 per seat and usually gets up to 60 per cent lounge occupancy. Arvind Chaphalkar, Partner, City Pride Multiplex, Pune, agrees with Banerji adding that the occupancy is highest during the weekends.

Personalised movie-viewing experiences, aren't new to our film-crazy country where the the dress circle in former movie halls offered similar privileges until the 1990s. The recent trend towards a luxury viewing experience follows similar instincts.

But the difference is that the privilege class, is no longer limited to the "affluent". Multiplexes that do not want to take the risk of creating a separate section are experimenting with smartening up a handful of top rows. "Lounges make sense only in swish neighbourhoods. For other areas, demarcating a few seats as premium seats makes better business sense," says Archana Jhangiani, head of brand & marketing, BIG Cinemas.

Sunil Punjabi, CEO of Cinemax seconds that, but feels that the trend is percolating to those keen on climbing the social ladder. "It's a habit-building exercise for us and hence multiplexes across have managed to sustain the sales and even expand," he Punjabi. Spice cinemas in Delhi for instance slashed their Gold Class rates by 50 per cent.

This probably explains why multiplexes in second-tier cities and towns, like Raigad and Malegaon, now have privilege seats. While BIG is looking at Ludhiana, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad over Bangalore; Cinemax's next choice after Mumbai is Pune for the Red Lounge. Cinepolis, the Mexican multiplex chain slated to open 150 screens in India by 2012, plans to introduce VIP sections in most cities. Delhi with it's love for the good life, however, remains the favourite destination for exhibitors.

Apart from physical expansion, these multiplexes are also looking at concept reinvention. From the use of noiseless cutlery at BIG to the pool table in Spice's Gold Class and plans to have a dedicated play area for kids by one of the popular chains, the multiplexes intend to lure many with the sheen of Gold.

( With inputs from Pallavi Pundir in Delhi and Rohan Swamy in Pune )

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