At a time when the movie industry is lacking good films and theatres of the country are shutting down one after another, multiplex theatres of the Star Cineplex are increasing in number.
Country's largest multiplex, Star Cineplex, started its journey with three theatres. Now, after 15 years of endeavour, it has 12 theatres in three different locations. The company plans to extend it to a 100 theatres nationwide in the near future.
The Chairman of Star Cineplex Mahbubur Rahman Ruhel thinks that the audience did not lose interest in movies, the ongoing expansion of Cineplex is an example of that.
"Multiplexes are expanding. It proves that the number of audiences have not decreased. They still love to go to the theatres to watch movies. However, there is a change in taste. The makers of Bangla cinema can no longer keep up with this change. As a result movies are failing and so are the cinema halls." stated Ruhel.
With an initial investment of Tk2.5 crore, Star Cineplex have splashed out Tk25 crore in the last 10 years for their development and expansion. Star Cineplex Chairman Mahbubur Rahman Ruhel told The Business Standard the story behind his enterprise.
Why is the multiplex model a success?
In the middle of the twentieth century, the concept of single screen theatres started to change. Multiplex concept was introduced. Audiences started to flock the multiplexes where there were multiple screens under one roof. Moviegoers instantly liked the atmosphere of the multiplexes. It gave them more choices of movies with better quality video and audio with great sitting arrangements. Also, they could enjoy variety of foods in the same premise.
India got their first multiplex in 1997. PVR cinema started off with four screens in Delhi. Now, the concept is popular worldwide.
How did it all start?
The concept of a multiplex was introduced in Bangladesh in 2004. Country's first multiplex – the Star Cineplex started its journey with three theatres.
Ruhel came back from the USA in 1999, after completing his studies in management information system and computer sciences. He established his own IT Company called Base Limited which was located in Panthapath. While staying in the USA, he had a habit of going to the multiplexes with friends. After coming back to Dhaka, he could not do so as the cinema theatres lacked in quality and services. Also, there were not many great movies to watch.
Incidentally, Basundhara Limited's office was adjacent to Ruhel's office. He came to know that Basundhara is building the then largest shopping mall in Bangladesh. They persuaded him with the idea of a multiplex at the shopping mall.
However, Ruhel did not accept the idea instantly. He talked to his team and IT experts about the set up. Simultaneously, he went to India to visit Delhi's PVR Cinemas. At the beginning of 2000, Ruhel started his project. He bought movie equipment from India. In 2004, country's first multiplex theatre Star Cineplex was launched.
"The first obstacle was to get the funding. No one was ready to fund a project of a multiplex. Local movie industry was going through tough times and theatres were getting shut down everywhere. Also, at that time, most of the bank officials were sceptic about people coming to theatres to watch movies."
"Later, Premier Bank sanctioned a loan of Tk2.5 crore. I initiated my dream project with that. But more than the funding problem, I felt the bigger impediment was discouragement. My friends, peers, movie industry insiders told me that it was an impossible task to pull off. Some said no one from a well-off and educated family goes to the theatre, only rickshaw pullers watch films." Ruhel recounted his early struggles.
But, Ruhel's wife supported his vision and dream. With his wife's encouragement, he started the business.
Initial years of loss
The first movie screened by Cineplex was "Spider-Man." Unfortunately, the organisation faced financial loss for the initial couple of years. People were not showing up as expected. Ruhel was facing difficulties to repay the bank loan. But he did not give up. Ruhel revamped his marketing strategy. Fortune started to turn with movies like "Gladiator" and "Molla Barir Bou." Cineplex started to release movies on the same day as other major global markets like Hollywood. Ruhel thinks that was one of the key factors for his success.
"It used to take two months for an American film to release here. The delay used to occur mostly because of issues such as getting the print and getting it through the sensor board. We were able to reduce that complication," Ruhel said.
The future plan
Basundhara City Cineplex has six theatres with a capacity for 1,600 audience. But, a major handicap for the Dhaka audience is the heavy city traffic. Movie goers most of the time would not chose the Basundhara Cineplex due to the commuting time it would take. As a result, Cineplex decided to open multiplexes in other locations as well. He plans to have at least 20 screens across various locations in Dhaka.
Ruhel inaugurated their second Cineplex at Shimanta Shambhar in Dhanmondi. Then the third one was in SKS Tower in Mohakhali. Soon they will inaugurate one in Mirpur. Cineplex plans to have a 100 screens in the future.
"Whenever a person is happy and entertained and s/he leaves with a smile on their face, it gives me immense pleasure. I feel I have contributed in their happiness – the very reason why I want to take some more initiatives like this in the future."
At present, Star Cineplex is planning to build an entertainment mall in Uttara where all the ingredients of entertainment will be available. They plan to have similar sorts of malls in Purbachal and Chattogram and later in other parts of the country.