One of the more surprising revelations made by the Indian businessman and entrepreneur Raaja Kanwar, the man pioneering digital cinema and exhibition in the territory, is that he is not "a fan of Hindi movies".
Kanwar's prefers English-language films and international arthouse movies and on meeting him one can see the passion and determination that have contributed to making UFO Moviez, his digital exhibition venture, an entity to reckon with.
To date, the company has released more than 300 movies in 10 different languages throughout India. The culture of digital cinema-going in the country is changing gradually, based on the cinema-goer's growing desire to see a film first day-first show, irrespective of whether the film is digital or analogue. "Because of print costs and logistical difficulties, the viewer in the interiors could not watch a movie day and date of release," Kanwar explains. "Digital cinema has been a great leveller and all centres and theatres are now 'A' grade release centres."
The upside is that UFO-installed cinema houses have experienced a three to four-fold increase in revenues based on a return to the theatres by the local audiences and, in some cases, a marginal increment in ticket prices (12%-15% extra).
Through his Apollo International, Kanwar launched UFO Moviez, in January 2005 with his partner Sanjay Gaekwad. Two years on and UFO Moviez has installed 650 of its digital cinema systems across the country and has targeted Europe as well as the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius and Indonesia.
Earlier this year, Apollo received a $22m cash injection from private equity firm 3i, and Kanwar is planning to float Apollo on the Indian stock exchange in 2010.
Kanwar is touting UFO Moviez as a cheaper alternative to digital cinema complying with the single standard developed by the US studio-backed Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI). Kanwar's other revelation is his suggestion the US majors are supporting an unnecessarily expensive format based on a 2k digital projector.
"(The DCI) standard and system would cost the cinema owner $125,000 plus (to install), but UFO Moviez has found a technology where the complete digital cinema solution is provided at $5 per show," Kanwar explains. "Our solution compresses a file to a very portable size without losing quality.
"Scientific studies conducted by the International Telecommunication Union have proved the human eye loses its acuity beyond 1.3k resolution. So what purpose will a 2k projector serve'"
Kanwar has been crowned the de facto spokesman for digital cinema in India and is chairman of the Ficci Digital Entertainment Forum. "Digital cinema and exhibition will become big. It's a business we have created and we will nurture it," he says.
RAAJA KANWAR, VICE-CHAIRMAN, APOLLO INTERNATIONAL
Based in Delhi, the 37-year old father of two studied in New Delhi before attaining a management degree from Drexel University in the US. He also has a Masters in photography, and has worked for American Express, General Tyres and Vogue. He returned to India in 1994 and set up Apollo International, diversifying his family's tyre business into the gaming and leather garments industries, among others.