“If you can, I can. If Ramanathan can, you can”
Kalaimamani Abirami Ramanathan is a double graduate in engineering and holds a Masters in Homeopathy Medical Science. He is the Managing Director of Abirami Mega Mall—a family entertainment Center in Chennai. He is also the President of Chennai City Film Exhibitor’s Association and Tamil Nadu Cinema Theatre Owner’s Federation.
He has served as the President of The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce and as the General Secretary of Film Federation of India. He is also the Past District Governor of Rotary Club of Madras District 3230, a producer and film distributor.
AbiramiRamanthan is a recipient of several awards. To name a few, ‘Kalaimamani Award’ presented by the Government of Tamil Nadu, ‘Honourable Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi Award’ presented by All India Congress Committee; ‘Raja Sando Award’ presented by Government of Tamil Nadu in 2001; ‘Dr. M.S. Ashraf Award for Non-Medical person by the Indian Medical Association’ in 2002; and ‘SevaRatna Award’ for the year 2002 – 2003 presented by the Centenarian Trust.
Abirami Ramanathan shares with Marie Banu his journey as an entrepreneur.
You are an icon for innovations. The Abirami Mega Mall broke the monotony of a theatre being a place only to watch movies. Where did you draw this idea from?
I was having business in Malaysia also. In 1983, while I was staying in a hotel at Kuala Lumpur I heard that there was a big celebration in the neighbourhood as the Prime Minister was inaugurating a mall. Mall was not common in those days and I was told that there were two old theatres which have been renovated to include a mall named ‘Chingaivanam Plaza’. I was curious, and spent two days to learn how the theatres have been renovated to include a shopping place. It then struck to me, ‘why not try this in India?’
Any consumer model that works out successful in another country would definitely be a success in India too. For almost 17 years, my wife I traveled all over the world visiting malls in each country. We would spend two hours in each mall to learn about the benefit and difficulties here. We went into details of how the food court has been designed; how the theatres were positioned; the parking space, the size of the kitchen in every food court, whether they used pre-cooked food or cooked the food at the venue itself, and other minute details.
We selected an architect who designed Mayajaal in Chennai and took him along with us on a second trip around the world and showed him what we wanted. This mall is a result of all our combined ideas.
What is special about Abirami Mega Mall?
This is the only family entertainment center in India. Most of the malls across the globe target the upper income group, but we wanted to target the middle-income group. We focused on getting two-wheeler customers rather than those who arrived in a car.
We decided to control the prices of the food while maintaining the quality. Even though we have leased the food stall to somebody else, we would still inspect their kitchen; ensure that the stale food is removed at the end of the day.
The reason we wanted to have control on the prices is because we did not want a coffee to cost Rs. 200 here. It could cost Rs.10 to15 maximum. People starting visiting the mall as Rs. 300 was enough to entertain their entire family. Even if the kids would want to visit another place, the father would insist on visiting this mall as it is easy on his purse. That is why on a Sunday, we have not less than 20,000 people visiting the mall.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas but are not willing to take a risk to venture into business?
When we took this risk of converting a theatre into a mall, we did not have finances to the extent we required. We approached bankers and had to prove it to them that this initiative would work. Many bankers refused, and few banks who agreed offered us finance at a high rate of interest.
Initially there will be difficulties and you will have to face them. My advice for entrepreneurs would be: Be straight forward, don’t try to cheat anybody, and plan properly.
You are identified as Abirami Mall owner; Producer; Distributor; Rotarian; Philanthropist—which of these roles would you like yourself to be identified with and why?
I would like to be identified as ‘myself’. When others are happy, I am happy. That applies to philanthropy, business, and everything else.
Can you share a memorable incident while rendering social service?
My wife is my biggest strength. In fact, it was because of her I started rendering social service. One day in 1987, while she was driving down east coast road along with her friends to Mahabalipuram, she found children near Neelankarai studying under a tree. She found that their school had no classrooms. She instantly called and asked me to build a classroom for them.
Since then, I have been endlessly doing social work and have been asking many people to do it. In fact, I have adopted my own village—Pulankurichi of Sivagangai District, and spend around 25 to 30 lakh rupees a year for its development. This year we have plan to provide 100 solar street lights, which has become a necessity today.
What are the innovative programmes that you have planned in the future?
We are planning to provide a free kalayanamandap which has a capacity of 1000 in Pulankurichi village of Sivagangai District,. At the moment, the mandaps in our village charge people Rs. 20,000 a day. This price could not be afforded by villagers, who are mostly farmers.
Our mandap will charge people only for the electricity on consumption basis and there would be no discrimination amongst the rich and poor. Bookings would be taken on first-come first-serve basis. This initiative would benefit 20,000 families in this village who can use the mandap for their domestic functions.
Another project that is in the pipeline is another mall in Chennai. The concept for this is to re-create Venice.
Your message for our readers?
I have two policies. The first is: If you can, I can. If Ramanathan can, you can. The next is: Whatever happens is for our good. Any entrepreneur can be successful if he adopts these policies.
Whatever we earn, we should divide it into four parts. One part is for the use of the company itself, so that it develops further. The second part is for your children—for their education. The third part is for the society. God has given you enough. So, give it to others and make them happy. The last part is for you. When a day comes when you cannot work, you must have a reserve. You should not depend on your children.