x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Business class vision for the big screen in the UAE and beyond

Mohammed Kabeer has managed UAE cinema venues for 30 years and recently inaugurated a nine-screen multiplex cinema in Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi. He discusses his expansion plans.

MM Kabeer, the founder of Oscar Cinemas. Lee Hoagland/The National
MM Kabeer, the founder of Oscar Cinemas. Lee Hoagland/The National

Mohammed Kabeer, an Indian, has been in the UAE cinema business since the 1970s, managing venues for 30 years before founding Oscar Cinemas in 2004 to set up his own movie theatre. He recently inaugurated a nine-screen multiplex cinema in Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda Mall. He talks about his expansion plans for the Emirates and beyond.

How did you start out in this business?

I am from Chennai in Tamil Nadu and I started in 1977 with the open-air cinema in Dubai. In 1979 I started to manage Club Cinema in Al Ain. I went on to manage the first multiscreen cinema in the UAE. All that time I was working for somebody and that's how I got my experience. I opened my own cinema in Al Ain in 2004 - a single screen. Then in Raha Mall I opened a venue with two screens. The next place had three screens. Last year I opened a venue with five screens and now this is nine screens in Al Wahda Mall.

How much was your Al Wahda investment?

Dh45 million. We plan to invest Dh300m over the next three years.

The new venue has a mega- swanky section. I love the leather seats. Is that what people want?

The Pearl Suite is a super-luxurious cinema experience for discerning customers. The seats are very comfortable. They recline fully like you are flying in business class on an airline. There is a call system and someone will come immediately to take your order for drinks and food. There is a separate entrance so customers don't have to come to the general counter. No one will know who is coming or going.

Are seats more pricey in this section?

No more so than similar sections at other cinemas. We charge Dh150.

And regular seats cost?

Dh65. Of that 55 per cent goes to the distributor and the rest goes on finance, admin and rent. In the Emirates, the revenue from snacks is more profitable. A family of four will spend a minimum of Dh100 on refreshments.

What are your plans now?

The next step is to go to Dubai in the middle of this year. Until now we have not been in Dubai. We are targeting 18 more screens in Dubai and the Northern Emirates this year. In Abu Dhabi there are plans for the end of the year - on Reem Island or Yas Island. There is also potential in Fujairah, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. We also have plans to go to Oman [in 2014] and Qatar. Current revenue is Dh80m and we project this will jump to Dhs300m by 2016.

Do you believe that the UAE will continue to be a country of cinema-goers?

Yes. It is increasing, not decreasing. The cinemas are in the malls and people like to go out; there are places for the children to play, for the family to shop, restaurants. After the movie they can get some food. Even if they watch the DVD at home, they still come to the cinema to watch the movie if it's good - it's better quality and better sound.