PVR’s Sanjeev Kumar Bijli: Jointly managing a successful chain

Cinemas Features

There are probably few cinema circuits in the world that can boast two managing directors. India’s PVR Ltd. is one of them. While Ajay Bijli acts as the company’s chairman and managing director, he is supported by his younger brother Sanjeev Kumar Bijli as joint managing director. As the circuit continues its expansion across the huge country (now comprising 131 properties with 600 screens in 51 cities), that somewhat unusual constellation makes sense, too, as responsibilities pile up and can be split between the two siblings.

Sanjeev Bijli is currently working with his elder brother and other key executives on launching the pilot venue for a low-cost cinema brand, which he hopes will be up and ready by the company’s fourth fiscal year quarter. (The fiscal year at PVR runs from March to March.) It is this sort of carefully orchestrated brand diversification that is one of the hallmarks of PVR’s success story. The company by now has established a good dozen or so different theatre brands, each of them created to appeal to a clearly defined audience demographic.

“India is a large, diverse and segmented market and we felt that different brands catering to different segments of the population was the way to go forward for us, and it also helps us in providing a unique product palette,” Sanjeev Bijli says.

In terms of programming, Sanjeev Bijli explains thatby and large most movie fans in India prefer local content over foreign films, and PVR is very conscious about that. “Nearly 90 percent of programming across the circuit is local, which means both Hindi-language and regional-language cinema. Hollywood and other foreign films constitute less than ten percent and are generally only in demand in major metropolitan areas such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Ahmedabad.”

The ratio between local and foreign titles is of course not drawn from a hat. Instead, the mix is determined by PVR’s professional programming team. “They study trends and gauge the potential popularity of films before setting up the schedules, and even then it can vary considerably from region to region.”

The first appearance of multiplexes in India thanks to operators like PVR in the late 1990s also gave a boost to a movie industry segment that previously had almost no opportunity for showcasing itself: smaller independent films. “Since multiplexes cater not only to mainstream audiences but also more discerning film fans, smaller content-driven films have now found a home at PVR,” Bijli explains, adding that the company not only distributes its films within the circuit but also to other (competing) chains through its own distribution subsidiary, PVR Pictures.

Concluding our interview, Sanjeev Bijli enlightens FJI about a peculiarity that once used to be observed in practically all theatres in the West, too, but has since largely died out: the intermission. Many Indian films have an extraordinarily long run time of three hours and sometimes even longer. “When that’s the case, we typically pause the film right in the middle, a tradition which we have upheld at PVR for many years. The intermission lasts for ten minutes, which allows patrons enough time to leave the auditorium and go buy snacks and drinks. In India, multiplex chains in general take advantage of that additional opportunity to sell concessions.” Talk about Indian business savviness.

“It makes us feel very privileged and honored to receive this award, as it comes from [within] our industry and it is a humbling experience to receive such an award for our efforts from our peers. We hope to continue expanding the circuit and provide a differentiated cinema viewing experience to discerning customers in India.”—Sanjeev Kumar Bijli