Sahara builds grand plans of townships with multiplexes

NEW DELHI: The Subroto Roy-promoted Sahara India group is making aggressive forays into the entertainment sector, planning to build multiplexes in 100-odd cities; and to produce feature films, apart from the already existing business venture in television through two satellite channels.

This is to be followed by the second phase where another 100 townships would be built in smaller towns of India having multiplexes. The cost: a whopping Rs 320 billion.

"We are building 100 townships around the country where in the commercial area, four-screen multiplexes would be built and run by us," the Sahara group managing director Subroto Roy told in an exclusive chat.

Pointing out that the first lot of townships would be followed by another lot of 100, Roy said that the 100-odd multiplexes are part of the first phase, combining real estate and entertainment business expansion, which is likely to be completed by 2005.

The plan is ambitious, but Roy did not give the details about the pattern of funding. He did not divulge whether the whole investment would be from internal accrual (the group claims to have assets worth over Rs 350 billion) or outside funding would be incorporated. "The first phase work is on, but it is still early to say whether we'd like to have a combination of funding (like debt or equity funding) for the townships-cum-multiplexes projects at some later stage," he added.

At present, Sahara group's media ventures include three TV channels - Sahara Manoranjan and two Sahara Samay news channels, one of which is streamed locally in Uttar Pradesh while the other is broadcast nationally. The Sahara group also has daily newspapers in Hindi and Urdu and broadsheet weeklies in Hindi and English. It also has a state-of-the-art studio and uplink centre in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, and another swanky studio in Mumbai.

According to Roy, who was in Delhi yesterday as part of the Indian Media Group demanding level playing field for domestic players from the government, the whole idea behind multiplexes is to run the same movies at all centres.

"The multiplexes would be inter-connected through a broadband network that can enable us to show the same movies from our huge library in all the multiplexes. This would not only cut down cost, but also bring about some uniformity in screening of movies in smaller towns," Roy expanded on his ambitious plan.

However, industry observers say this may take some time to turn into a reality considering the lack of bandwidth in the country that is exemplified by choked cell phone lines of almost all the service providers.

But Roy's grand plans have a method in madness. With the Sahara group's media entity deciding to produce big-budget films that would be "premiered on Sahara Manoranjan" channel, apart from being screened in theatres abroad, if executed well, advertising revenue may pour in.

As an example, Roy said the group has taken the responsibility of producing two feature films - one on Subhash Chandra Bose and the other tentatively titled Vande Mataram - being directed by well known Bengali directors like Rituparno Ghosh and Gautam Ghosh, amongst others. Even film actress Raveena Tandon has done a couple of productions for Sahara, Roy said.

However, Roy ruled out the group's forays into film distribution in a big way. He said reports of Sahara distributing Feroze Khan-produced and Fardeen Khan-starring Janasheen film might be just a one-off case. "I don't think we'd like to get into distribution. Those reports may be an emotional reaction from us on requests from friends from Bollywood," he explained.

Roy also expressed satisfaction over the outcome of the Rs 600 million mega-serial Karishma: The Miracles of Destiny featuring Hindi film actress Karishma Kapoor. The Supreme Court of India recently dismissed an appeal filed against a Kolkata high court order on Karishma on charges of plagiarism filed by novelist Barbara Bradford Taylor who had alleged the serial was based on her best-selling novel A Woman of Substance.

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