The New Tycoons here!
George Benjamin Cherian of Raj Waterscape Properties and Udeep Bogollu Reddy of Mayajaal Entertainment are focussed, driven and ambitiously changing the game in their respective fields, one path-breaking decision at a time!
They invest in their passion, and more importantly in themselves, to further their interests.
In one of the most interesting interactions for our prestigious cover, RITZ, South India’s largest lifestyle magazine, gets to understand what drives these two young tycoons who helm family businesses but have deftly reshaped them to suit our modern, rapidly changing times and their own ambitious life goals.
Building On Strength: Udeep Bogollu Reddy, Group Managing Director of Mayajaal Group of Companies
Dressed in casual jeans and a luxuriously designed shirt, Udeep Bogollu Reddy, Group Managing Director of Mayajaal Group of Companies, puts you instantly at ease, with his warm smile, disarming honesty and casual confidence.
Schooled at St. Micheal’s Adyar, the Chennai boy got an undergraduate degree in Engineering from the University of Madras (Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering) and then a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Burning ambition characterizes the otherwise soft-spoken Udeep, who is betting big on Chennai’s ECR, with big investments in the area in the fields of multiplex and destination shopping experience with Mayajaal, and real estate with Mayances.
RITZ catches up with him in this exclusive interaction for our cover, where he tells us about his hotly-anticipated Mayajaal 2.0, the ongoing and future plans of his group and lots more.
Tell us about growing up in Chennai and your personal style evolution.
I literally grew up in various parts of Chennai from Kodambakkam in the early years to Adyar a little later and Besant Nagar and Neelankarai now. Style has always been a subtle part of me front the beginning – right from buying Raymond’s silk fabric for my school uniform to buying the full palette of LEE shirts when they first came to Chennai when I was in first year college some 20 years back! I have always preferred the subtle understated look. I’m very comfortable with my blacks and blues, paired with my fave pair of jeans. But I have become a total Diesel junkie now! I love matching watches with different outfits. I used to dress formally sometime back but have now found my comfort dressing in the classic semi-formal pairing of jeans and shirts.
Were you always an entertainment junkie or did it all start after Mayajaal?
Always was! In those days of broadcast television of Doordarshan , I never used to miss any of the films programs like ‘Chitrahar’ , TV soaps like ‘Ramayan’ or English shows like ‘Giant Robo’ or ‘Knight Rider’ ! I would always be at Tic Tac picking up the latest VHS or VCD or LD of the latest Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Godfather flicks or I would be at Prarthana Drive-in watching films like Thalapathy! I am a minimum-one-movie-a-day kind of a guy. Now web series have take over with OTT platforms getting into our lives. Still, I clock a minimum of 200 movies a year across languages! I’ve been mad about video games right from the Prince-of-Persia, Pacman Ontario days and crazy about F1 racing and cricket. So I guess Mayajaal was a logical extension of my natural passion and interest.
Tell us about your initiation into the Mayajaal business and the 3 business lessons you have learnt from your involvement in Mayajaal.
In the year 2003 when I came back from US to India, Mayajaal, then a 6-screen multiplex with a cricket ground and resort was struggling to stay cash flow positive and was on the block to be sold for a song! It was then that I took over the reigns and started this journey to turnaround the company.
‘Never Give Up!’ Mayajaal, which opened in the year 2001-2002, was South India’s First Multiplex with 6 screens, a food court and gaming zone. Being a little far from the city and being a highly capital intensive project it was a challenge to run this business in the initial years. Bringing in systems, innovating at that time to have a variable overheads model for weekdays and weekends (as weekends were high on occupancy and weekdays were abysmal), introducing flexible ticket pricing for in-demand films at that time and discounts for others, membership schemes etc. were some of the things done to stabilise the company. Forming a good team with a domain expertise and customer-centric approach was also the key. Slowly things stabilised and people believed that this could be run as a profitable venture.
‘Every Challenge is an Opportunity.’ When the state government brought in tickets controls and ceiling of Rs. 120 in 2006, we decided to increase the screens to grow the business as rates could not be increased. This gave us the economy of scale and helped us grow even though the ticket rate could not be increased year on year. In business, every challenge you face, you have to look at it as in opportunity to grow. Now Mayajaal is a 16-screen state-of-the-art multiplex, and the largest in the country by virtue of the highest number of screens in one complex.
‘Be Open to Change.’ We had a lovely cricket ground and a 40-room resort in the 30-acre property. Both were pet and passionate projects but then at the end of the day were bleeding and not viable. So we decided to convert them into something that which will create a captive consumption market for Mayajaal and also free up cash flows. One became a luxury villa gated community -‘Myans’ and the other a lifestyle apartment complex – ‘EC14’. This has created a captive consumption target audience of 700 families living within the campus over the next 2 years.
Mayajaal 2.0 sounds really exciting! Congratulations! We hear you have a new army of gaming, food outlets and a brand new shopping experience at Mayajaal, not to mention the new version of the cinema experience. How does Mayajaal 2.0 compare with other multiplex experiences?
Chennai, especially ECR, which is the entertainment highway of Tamilnadu needed this Mayajaal 2.0 reboot! Right from the time it first opened, Mayajaal set benchmarks with a centrally air-conditioned complex featuring a bowling alley, gaming zone, food court, etc. Ticket rates were controlled by the government and kept to ` 120 for over 10 years for which it was not viable to provide the swanky luxe experience on a pure return-on-investment point of view. When we got the hint that the ticket rates would be increased a couple of years back we decided that it was time to up the ante and went in for a total overhaul – state-of-the-art interiors, 16 different interiors for 16 different screens, designed by my father and architect Mohan Reddy who has designed more than 10 million sq.ft of real estate over 40 years (a lot of people don’t know that Rajinikanth’s Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam was designed and built by us).
Mayajaal 2.0 comes equipped with the best of 3D digital projection with Dolby Atmos sound systems, 4K Harkness High-Gain Screens, live food counters, personalised seat delivery service, plush washrooms, lots of food outlets like Bhangra – Punjabi fine dining, Dominos, WafBites, Tibbs Frankie, Marrybrown, Baskin Robbins and many more. The bowling alley is transformed into a UV-lit Neon Lights discotheque with pool tables like you find in Europe and US. We have an array of Augmented Reality Games, Virtual Reality Games, 5D to 9D Immersive games and many more! The shopping completes the bouquet with a range of products from apparel to gifts to homeware. The multiplex offers a huge range of films to choose from with over 30 films playing 80 shows a day every weekend across 6 languages – Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English, Malayalam and Kannada. Nowadays we have started playing Gujarati, Marathi & Bengali films regularly! With so many shows and so many films, you are sure to find something nice to catch at the movies every weekend! We were the first to break the myth of multiplexes not playing dubbed versions of English and Hindi films. Now everyone does it right from PVR. We were one of the first to play films with sub-titles for all other language films on all days so that more people can watch films from other languages. Now even Satyam is playing sub-titles on all days for other language films instead of only Thursdays. I feel that the biggest advantage for Mayajaal over all others is the comfortable parking we provide – ground level parking for over 1000 cars. Overall Mayajaal has now transformed into a swanky hangout where friends and families can spend a whole day doing many things fun and exciting in addition to catching their favourite films!
What are your views on PVR taking over the iconic Sathyam cinemas and what does this mean for the cinematic experience in Tamilnadu?
PVR’s takeover of Satyam was an emotional downer for Chennai due to the city’s huge loyalty and strong connect with the Satyam brand. Satyam did a fantastic job with the renovation of their iconic Mount Road property and all their properties post that kept taking the standard and expectations from customers higher and higher. But, I feel, overall in the long run this deal is good for the group as it gives them access to capital which is critical in this business to scale, maintain and upgrade. Now, PVR is already a leader here and is all set to become an even more dominant player in the next two years in Tamilnadu.
This will in turn bring in a lot more national players into Tamilnadu. Overall I see the multiplex industry growing at a healthy clip for the next 5 years and most of the single screens either closing down or converting into multiplexes.
Your plans for Mayajaal in the future – are you planning to expand to other cities and states?
Yes. Now that Mayajaal along the ECR is on auto-pilot mode, it gives us a plug and play template to take across to other locations. We are actively scouting for locations in South India to expand our multiplex business.
The Mayajaal 2.0 experience that Chennai is waiting for, in a few crisp words…
Mayajaal Redux – Swanky with a Soul!
Running Mayajaal must have also given you a many interesting landmark moments over the years. Tell us about a few of them.
Running into MSD and Suresh Raina who casually dropped by at Mayajaal after finishing an IPL game in Chepauk was fun. MSD is a well-known speed junkie and he found out that there was a go-karting track here that he wanted to try out. We caught the IronMan movie too that day.
When Shankar’s Enthiran released in 2010 we decided to open 4 additional screens for the film in record time. The project timeline was so tight that only on the midnight of the day of release we got the license to run the shows in the new screens! Phew! That was cutting it too close but we learnt a lot in that project!
During the December 2015 floods we opened up the complex for the public round-the-clock to take shelter. That was a very emotional and heart-warming time for us to be able to do something like that.
What prompted your foray into real estate with Mayances and in particular, your luxury villa project Myans?
As we had already been in this space for over 40 years, I thought it was time we carved out a separate brand for a high-end exclusive project portfolio. That led to Mayances and the launch of our prestigious high-end luxury villa project ‘Myans’ in ECR at Mayajaal with 73 villas in 9 acres of land.
What is the USP of Myans, what are the price points?
We already had the anchor in the form of Mayajaal and the idea was to create a mini township where people can walk to the movies and just as easily walk to the shopping complex, games, beach, etc. So the villa project came up as ECR is associated with high-end living and a plush lifestyle. We initially visualised weekend homes but now with the city rapidly expanding and large-scale infrastructure development happening in ECR, most of the homes are being used as primary homes! All the villas are Green Buildings with huge natural light flowing through.
Villas are contemporarily styled with toughened glass and SS Railings. Fancy pergolas and glass roofs with ample living space. There are double height cut-open living rooms which give depth and character to the villa. Italian marble floors, fancy washrooms fitted with Duravit & Grohe fittings, covered car parks, automated lights, internet of things enabled appliances, VRV air conditioning, solar water heaters, Klipsch home theatre system and huge landscaped areas surrounding the villas – these are just a few salient features of the villas.
We won the Times of India Dubai Realty Best Green Project 2017 award for the same. We have three types of villas with areas from 3700 sq.ft. to 5500 sq.ft. with prices ranging from 3 crores to 5 crores. One of the biggest highlights is the swanky 20,000 sq.ft. state-of-the-art Clubhouse and Spa with a coastline view!
Tell us about your family, and how supportive they have been of your journey. How do you unwind with them?
When I took over this company in 2003-2004 we had an annual turnover of 5 crores and now the group is clocking around 100 crores. The vision is to make the group best in what ever space it is in and to grow the business 5 folds in 5 years from today while at the same time reducing the debt:equity ratio.
With such a big goal ahead of us, I am very thankful that my parents and in-laws were, are and will always be the backbone and support system to reliably fall back on. My wife, Anita, is the very reason for my being where I am today as she is mentally very strong and has been very understanding and supportive all these years of my entrepreneurial journey as it’s not easy to put up with a workaholic husband in the Indian business environment. But now I have learnt to strike a nice work-life balance. We have two sons who are our dear darlings – Adwai and Aadharv – they are a handful and total fun! Maldives is like our home away from home! Paradise on earth! I am very much the secluded beach resort getaway kind of person, who loves water sports – believe it or not the first speeding ticket I got was on a Jet Ski in Lake Tahoe in the US!
How would you describe yourself as a businessman?
Gritty, determined, patient and a long-haul kind of a guy who does not give up on anything that easily.
Your advice for startups and entrepreneurs of today?
Time is money. Don’t waste it.
Plan meticulously. Execute judiciously.
Cash is King as all profits are book profits and all losses are cash losses.
Build a strong team and lead with clarity and confidence.
You are a fan of?
How is Sarkar faring at Mayajaal?
It’s doing exceptionally well. Vijay’s movies nowadays draw audiences across the board. He has managed to hook both the youth and the family audiences alike.
Is Mayajaal ready for Shankar’s 2.0 4D experience?
Almost there! We’ll be firing on all cylinders by 29th Nov for sure! We are equipping some of the Screens with 4D and most of the Screens are already equipped with 3D.
Udeep Bogollu Reddy heads the Mayajaal Group of companies in the position of Group Managing Director. The group has interests in Exhibition (Mayajaal Entertainment Limited), Real Estate (Mayances Construction & Engineering Services), Film Production (Nviz Entertainment) & Financial Investments (Udan holdings). The group’s annual turnover is currently around 100 crores.