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The game changer

Malavika Sangghvi  |  Mumbai 

Malavika Sangghvi

Please read the clarification at the end.

Manmohan Shetty, chairman of Adlabs, is a sprightly, silver-haired man with an unobtrusive, bluff manner that recalls the late Yash Johar, Karan Johar's father.

The comparison is not inaccurate. Like Johar, Shetty commands enormous goodwill in Bollywood. "There have been many times when someone from the industry, I had no idea he even knew, tells me of how he helped them out in their hour of need," says his daughter, Pooja Deora, who helps her father on the operational and management side of his jaw-droppingly ambitious theme parks: Adlabs Imagica, launched in April 2013, and Adlabs Aquamagica, launched in September last year.

But to truly understand the "Shetty phenomenon", one has to go back a few years.

Shetty founded Adlabs in 1978 starting out as a laboratory specialising in ad-film processing, which graduated to full-length feature film processing in 1983.

By the end of that decade, this straight forward, taciturn Mangalorean, who appears to be worlds apart from the kebab-sharab culture of Bollywood, was running the largest film processing laboratory in the country with top production houses like Yash Raj Films as his clients.

But that was only the beginning of Shetty's amazing journey. By the mid-1980s, the visionary entrepreneur, who says he always wanted "to create something that India had not seen or experienced before", had begun to toy with the idea of the multiplex cinema format.

He developed a model that would suit India and decided to introduce the IMAX experience and multiplex theatres in India in the early 2000s.

Raising money from the equity market, Adlabs' foray into the cinema business changed the face of the Hindi film business forever, bringing in a new audience of young urban Indians back to the theatres, who demanded a new kind of films be made.

By the time Shetty decided to exit this business and sell to Reliance ADAG in 2007, Adlabs was a behemoth worth millions. (Its market capitalisation was $1 billion in 2008). "It's never been the money as far as I'm concerned," says Shetty, sipping his coffee as we sit at a suburban coffee shop.

"He's always been a workaholic. He could have sat back and enjoyed early retirement; but he called me and my sister Aarti, who looks after the creative side of dad's ventures, and introduced us to his next project, theme parks!" Deora says. "I want to do things in India that people say can't be done," reiterates Shetty, stirring his coffee.

Without wasting a moment, Shetty and his team engaged a team of people from around the world with years of experience and expertise in the theme park business to work towards Shetty's goal. Vendors from across the world who worked with some of the best theme parks were brought in to provide machinery equipment and rides for Shetty's vision - an international class theme park at Indian price and value.

Though there were a few expected teething problems, all those who have experienced the park set on 300 acres in Khopoli on the Mumbai-Pune expressway say these are world class.

By February this year, the next phase of Shetty's vision will unfold with the rollout of the Novotel Imagica hotel and soon the foot print of Adlabs Imagica will be seen in the rest of the country in almost all the main regions.

"What next?" I ask Shetty


He has a faraway look in his eye and is about to say something.

"Don't encourage him," laughs Deora. "You never know what he'll come up with next!"



Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer malavikasmumbai@gmail.com

A clarification
We wish to bring to your notice that the column contains certain facts extraneous to any information provided by us or our associates. We reiterate that certain other information mentioned in the column such as the opening of the hotel in “February” (which you may have obtained through your sources) has not been provided by us or our associates.

Adlabs Entertainment Ltd

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First Published: Sat, January 24 2015. 00:09 IST
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