On November 30, Ajay Bijli, the promoter of the multiplex chain PVR, had forgotten his wallet at home. As he scrambled from one meeting to another to explain the deal he had signed to acquire Cinemax, a rival multiplex operator, he joked: "I have no money (because) I have paid everything to the Kanakias (the promoters of Cinemax)."
There's no way to tell if the deal has indeed left Bijli penniless. But, the money involved is truly big.
PVR has bought 69.27 per cent of the promoter's stake held by the Kanakias in Cinemax for Rs 395 crore. PVR, of course, also has to pick another 26 per cent in the company through the mandatory open offer, which can take the cost of the acquisition to over Rs 560 crore.
It's a deal that has catapulted Bijli to the top spot in the business in the country, a position he had lost in the past few years, first to Inox Leisure and then to Anil Ambani's BIG Cinemas. PVR was pushed to the third spot.
Bijli, who introduced multiplex theatres in the country in the 1990s with Australia's media company, Village Roadshow, admits he was feeling the heat: "You cannot rest on your laurels; what matters is what you are today, not what you were in 1997."
It is not that he did not try the inorganic route to growth - he was unable to close the acquisitions that came his way.
In 2009, he had struck a deal to buy DLF's 26-odd screens in and around Delhi in a cash-cum-equity deal, but, the real estate developer backed out at the last moment.
He also made an attempt to buy out multiplex chain Fame, but was outbid by Inox.
But, this time, Bijli left nothing to chance.
Actis, the private equity fund, was also known to be keen to acquire Cinemax. But, it was he who walked away with Cinemax. Bijli (the surname comes from his grandfather, who was very active in the rehabilitation of refugees; his electrifying energy earned him the nickname, Bijli Pehalwan) says he had been talking to the Kanakias for nearly three years, but it was only six month back that the family, which is into real estate and hotels, decided this was not their core business.
The Kanakias had, therefore, demerged the multiplex business from the other businesses.
That was a clear signal that the Kanakias were looking for a buyer for Cinemax.
Image: Ajay Bijli (left) with Anil Kapoor.
Text: Surajeet Das Gupta, Business Standard
Images Courtesy: PVR Cinemas