With Miraj Partnership, IMAX Digs Deeper Into India

If you’re buying weekend tickets to an IMAX screening of the latest release, you’re probably spending upwards of Rs 2,000 for a family of four. That’s not counting the popcorn and drinks, maybe a dinner afterwards near the theatre. 

One would imagine IMAX to be a phenomenon limited to the affluent, with demand coming largely from customers of PVR-Inox’s luxury-tier pricing. Besides, ever since the pandemic ended, cinemas have been fighting to bring audiences back to this big screen. Higher ticket prices have driven multiplex revenues much more than higher footfalls or the sale of more tickets. 

Yet, IMAX Corp had a record 2023 in India, earning $23.1 million at the box office last year. IMAX has been ramping up its ambitions in India but remained a marginal presence here for years (read more in this edition of The Impression). 

Now, it is keen on taking its larger-than-life screens to the masses. 

Last week, IMAX announced a partnership with Miraj Cinemas, a mid-priced multiplex chain best known for serving cities and neighbourhoods bereft of glitzy exhibitors such as PVR-Inox. 

This is an unusual partnership. So far, IMAX has opened screens in India largely with the country’s largest multiplex chain PVR-Inox, including at iconic single-screen locations such as Priya in Delhi and Eros in Mumbai. Last year, it came to Coimbatore with Broadway Cinemas, a new exhibitor. 

With Miraj, IMAX’s first aim is to restart another iconic location: Mumbai’s Wadala.

“The new Miraj IMAX location in Mumbai will take over the site of the former IMAX Wadala, the first-ever IMAX location in India that closed in 2023, re-establishing access for audiences in Mumbai to this iconic location that has been a centrepiece of the moviegoing experience in India since it opened in 2003,” Preetham Daniel, Vice President, theatre development at IMAX (APAC), told The Impression.

Besides reviving an old classic, IMAX finally wants to find its audience outside India’s biggest metros. That’s where Miraj Cinemas comes in. 

“The second location with Miraj will be based in Jaipur, a high-potential Tier II city, and will be located in one of the highest-grossing multiplex locations there,” Daniel added. 

Miraj Cinemas is best known for its mid-priced multiplexes, attractive to those who don’t want to spend on a premium multiplex ticket but would rather not sit in a single screen theatre either. “We have always been the value format of the country,” Amit Sharma, MD of Miraj Entertainment, told The Impression. “We are not St Regis [hotel], but we are the Courtyard Marriott [hotel].” Miraj’s network of multiplexes is spread over smaller cities in western and southern India such as Karwar (Karnataka) and Nandurbar (Maharashtra). In Mumbai, most of its cinemas serve the city’s satellite towns and far away suburbs such as Panvel, Dombivali, and Vasai-Virar.

Bumping Up Value

Miraj operates Entertainment Paradise, positioned as a luxury multiplex in the southern part of Jaipur. PVR opened a multiplex in the city last year, yet IMAX picked Miraj to expand to the city. Similarly, PVR was already present in Coimbatore when it took over local multiplex chain SPI Cinemas in 2018; yet, IMAX picked Broadway to launch in the city (note: last year, it also launched IMAX in Lucknow with PVR). 

Now, Miraj will help take IMAX to more of small-town India. 

“The terms of our recent deal with Miraj are for three new IMAX locations across the country. We are still in active discussion on where the third location will be,” IMAX’s Daniel said. 

Miraj’s Sharma says the market is ripe for IMAX in cities such as Ranchi and Raipur or those similar in size and consumer profile to Lucknow and Jaipur. But, he adds, a new IMAX market still needs to be a city with a population of more than two million. “Maybe five years down the line we can talk about towns with a one million population,” he says. 

That indicates the current limits to IMAX’s ambitions for going deeper in India. Tickets to an IMAX show of a film can cost more than double the price of a regular multiplex ticket. Miraj Cinemas is a value format, but its prices are not necessarily lower in smaller cities. “In the Miraj in [Mumbai suburb] Goregaon, we charge an average ticket price [ATP] of Rs 200, but in Jodhpur, our ATP is higher, at Rs 250,” Sharma said. 

Cinemas are still struggling to pull audiences consistently from widely available online entertainment. IMAX tickets can lure a premium audience but to make their small-town foray successful, they will need a steady stream of audiences willing to pay a premium on the already premium experience of a multiplex. 

Then, there is the challenge of content. 

Building The IMAX Menu 

Is there enough content for the screens IMAX wants to open in the country? Already, multiplexes are struggling with a lull between a few big budget films (read more in this edition of The Impression). IMAX is now working with filmmakers to release more local language films in the format and last year had an unusually large slate, including the year’s biggest hits such as Jawan and Pathaan. Yet this year, so far, only four films were released in the format, of which Fighter and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan performed below expectations. 

Besides, IMAX is yet to introduce a ‘Filmed for IMAX’ movie in India, a programme under which filmmakers plan a project for the format and shoot it using IMAX-certified cameras. That’s because, as Daniel said earlier, the company plans to first add more screens before it convinces filmmakers to let IMAX executives have a greater say in how they make films for the format.

So far, all Indian IMAX releases have been converted into the format post-production. 

Yet, IMAX says it is confident that Indians will queue up for its offerings. “Three of the top ten highest grossing films for IMAX in India are Indian language titles that have been released since the start of 2022,” Daniel said. “Zooming out even further, nine of the top thirty highest-grossing IMAX films ever in India are Indian language titles.”

Unfortunately, exhibitors and technology firms like IMAX are dealing with a chicken-and-egg problem. What should come first, more screens in small cities or more films that will appeal to the people there? Therein lies the gamble that IMAX is taking on India.

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