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No Biz Like Chowbiz

Bollywood idols create Movie Magic, a chain of celeb restaurants

No Biz Like Chowbiz
It's all about reaching for the stars. As action hunks Sunil Shetty and Sunny Deol are priming Planet Bollywood for Australia, matinee idols Shah Rukh Khan, Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala, Kajol, Ajay Devgan, Nagarjuna Akkineni and Gulshan Grover will create their own firmament in India, ambitiously titled Stars In Leisure Industries Private Limited.

With Bollywood corporatising on such planet-sized scale, star-crazed fans can finally realise some fantasies. Slaver over a dish whipped out of Shroff's very own recipe-book; shake hands with Khan in a film-theme restaurant, nurse a drink while stargazing at Koirala, lug back a precious goodie signed and designed by Devgan, even as screen-baddie Grover metamorphoses into a fairy godmother brandishing more such ideas to enchant film addicts. For starters, the high-powered team will, in a few months, launch Movie Magic (MM), film-theme based restaurants with merchandising facilities in seven major cities.

 It is the brainchild of the wig-switching Bollywood baddie Gulshan Grover who recently splashed the news, along with signed statements from all participating artistes. His stint in Hollywood has opened his eyes to filmdom's untapped trove of opportunities. "Indian stars have not ventured beyond acting, whereas in Hollywood topmost stars have branched into other areas of the entertainment business. I discussed the prospects with my star friends and was pleasantly surprised that they too shared the idea." For these stars, the sky is now the limit.

For Grover, with this ideal chance to test his "qualifications of commerce and business management", MM is "not just a business venture, but a projection of my dream". Artistes nursing gourmet ambitions will share their recipes, on which most of the food and beverages here will be based. Imagine crowing to a country cousin how you salivated over a chocolate mousse concocted by Koirala, while he can only drool over her life-sized poster. Paint him green by whisking out a photo she posed with you, sealed with her own signature. Magic will thus improve upon its western models. While the latter have stars' namesake patronage and their pictures, wax models and photographic projections as poor substitutes, Bollywood's dream team promises that "Movie Magic will be unique, as stars will regularly visit it and interact with their fans".

The West may pass off star names packaged as brands, but Movie Magic will be an out-and-out artiste collaboration, from its launch to the entire conceptualisation. Sunil Shetty is still toying with a similar venture in Sydney, only he plans to limit it to one celeb visit every month. In an era where restaurants have to go beyond the menu to survive, Shetty intends to couple the aroma of good food with the aura of star presence through promos, premieres and events.

While Koirala is confident MM "will be a great success", the lisping Shah Rukh is excited about ensuring "the show will go on". He adds, in afterthought: "And we will get to eat out too." Shah Rukh, an admirer of the Planet Hollywood concept, sees MM as a pathway to getting "closer to one's audience".

Though the MM team will pump in most of the moolah and mind-power, it will lean heavily on advice from world experts and star-power promoters like the Upper-deck Authenticated Company. Upperdeck has milched the magic of sports megastars Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, among others—ensuring that a fan who pays a prince's ransom for memorabilia is assured that the superstar signature on it is genuine.

Indian stars are waking up to the potential of not just selling dreams, but vending their brand equity too. The scenario today: the largest number of movies produced anywhere in the world, with Hindi filmdom alone contributing 125 annually, raking in a gross revenue of Rs 15,000 million, with TV channels surviving through their 60 per cent dependence on film-based programmes. The Stars in Business note that cinema is not only a "fashion statement but also a way of life". They intend extending this further with not just film-theme restaurants, but also merchandise outlets, cinema multiplexes, cafes and other entertainment projects. As Nagar-juna enthuses, this idea is a winner in an "ardently film-going country like India".

Devgan, who has been working on MM's audio-video possibilities, believes "movies are not restricted to their technique and projection on the screen, but magic of movies extends into a whole world. That is why we are creating MM". For Shroff, whose curriculum vitae profiles him as a businessman-actor (with investments in television) the idea, "born straight from the heart", was midwifed to introduce values to a younger generation. His wife, former model-actress Ayesha, also involved with the project has pooled a collection of rare photographs, costumes and props from his films for display at MM eat-outs. Apart from sharing his favourite recipes, Shroff also intends to design some merchandise to get across his message for a healthy mind and body.

The Stars in Business team is raring to go. One only hopes it doesn't go the Bachchan way.

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