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Ajay Bijli: The big picture man
Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi

Ajay Bijli, PVR Cinema chief
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January 12, 2008

It isn't difficult talking to Ajay Bijli. What's hard is getting through to him. One can't blame him, not with the workload he has to tackle on a daily basis, not when his brand PVR reported a turnover of Rs 170 crore in financial year 2006-07. Not when brand PVR will launch 250 screens in the next three years.

But despite the short notice, we find ourselves in luck and proceeding with our scheduled interview in Bijli's brand new office in Gurgaon. It's his third day in the new office and by his own admission his routine is in a mess, so there's no time for him to really sit back and take stock of things.

As chairman and managing director of PVR, Bijli, along with his brother Sanjeev, has spearheaded and revolutionised the way Indians watched cinema. "Our cinema," he says, while sipping his green tea, "is so colourful, but cinema 'viewing' I always thought needed more life, more colour."

And while his first initiative -- the revamping of Priya theatre in New Delhi, which his father had purchased in 1978 for just Rs 30-40 lakh -- got an overwhelming response, today, after completing a little over 10 years in the trade of exhibiting cinema, his brand continues its successful journey. The recent addition to brand PVR is its successful diversification into the realm of producing films.

Taare Zameen Par, the film that was produced on Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million), has collected Rs 45 crore  (Rs 450 million) within two weeks . Within the first three days of its release it had collected Rs 13 crore (Rs 130 million).

Following the success of this production venture, PVR is all set to invest Rs 100 crore  (Rs 1 billion) in film production for producing six films by 2008-09.

"The post-production work on our next film with Aamir (Khan) is already on," says Bijli. "Our idea," he adds, while I spot a DVD of The Secret, "is to nurture the brand PVR to the best of our ability."

Which could be the reason why PVR is moving into the food court space, taking its PVR Talkies brand into tier II and tier III cities, and opening many more screens in the future. "We'll open around 30 screens this year and 70-80 screens all over the country next year," offers Bijli, who dreams of taking PVR to every nook and corner of the country. "I don't want anyone to miss out on the PVR experience," he says.

It's not hard to miss the glint of satisfaction on Bijli's face and surprisingly, there's no sign of exhaustion. How does he manage to strike the balance? "It's team work. I'm blessed with an excellent managerial staff," he says.

In addition to a remarkable work force, he says that spending time with his wife and kids, waking up and starting his day early and unwinding by talking to his mother every day are just some factors which keep him balanced.

"I enjoy working out and make it a point to do it before the children leave for school," he says, and I notice, for the first time, a framed picture of his family on his desk. He likes dining out ("whenever I get the time") with friends who don't talk business or movies.

 "I actually like watching films to unwind but I usually try not to attend premieres of films," he says. Having moved his office premises to a new location, Bijli is facing the trauma of commuting. "It takes so long to reach here, but I'm in office by 10 am and wind up by 7-8 pm," he says.

Running a listed company isn't a joke (each screen costs Bijli Rs 2.5 crore  (Rs 25 million) at least, and PVR mostly takes the property on lease for 15-20 years) but, at the same time, Bijli feels that being analytical doesn't always work.

"I can't explain the reason for having 96 plasma screens in our multiplex in Saket's Citywalk. Nor can I elaborate on the reason behind opening an 11-screen multiplex in Bangalore. Or, for that matter, why we haven't priced tickets in Latur as steep as any metro," says Bijli.

He pauses thoughtfully, then adds, "Sometimes, it's just good to work on a hunch." Though he admits that he can't afford to get carried away with "passion" alone, he strongly feels that there are times when one needs to take that leap of faith.

I think the Ganesh idol placed behind Bijli is from a Frazer & Haws. I do not ask him if he believes in faith and karma. But from what I see, he seems blessed. For many of us, who believe in the power of cinema, we hope it continues that way.

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