Hyderabad: A real-life fight sequence has been playing out for several weeks between sections of the film industry and the government of Andhra Pradesh over a decision to lower the prices of movie tickets. A rapprochement, however, finally seems to be on the cards.
Film director Ram Gopal Varma had a meeting with state Cinematography Minister Perni Venkataramaiah, also known as Perni Nani, Monday to eke out an “amicable solution” following a spat on Twitter, while actor Chiranjeevi met Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy Thursday, and said he had high hopes for a new government order.
Chiranjeevi urged members of the film fraternity to “exercise restraint” until a committee constituted by the government came out with revised proposals regarding the reduction of prices.
The fracas began in April 2021 when the Andhra Pradesh government issued an order fixing price slabs for movie theatres in municipal corporation cities, municipalities, gram panchayats, and so on.
The order also specified fixed rates under economy, deluxe, and premium classes for multiplexes, as well as AC and non-AC theatres.
For instance, in municipal corporation areas, a multiplex can charge only Rs 75-200 for a ticket, while the price bracket for AC and non-AC theatre tickets is Rs 20-100. In gram panchayat areas, the government ordered that ticket prices should not exceed Rs 5 for economy-class tickets in non-AC theatres.
A price cap has also been put on refreshments sold in theatres, and owners have been told that providing clean drinking water and bathrooms is mandatory. Further, the government has said that theatre owners should make provisions for online ticket purchases.
These steps, according to the government, have been taken to benefit the “common man”.
There has, however, been plenty of pushback, with some members of the film industry speaking out against the move and hundreds of theatre owners protesting. Last month, many theatres in the state — one in five, by some estimates — shut shop, claiming it was no longer profitable for them to do business especially in the wake of pandemic-related losses.
More than 200 theatre owners also filed petitions in the Andhra Pradesh High Court challenging the order. The court last month directed the government to form a committee to deliberate on the matter, but discussions held this week were inconclusive. The committee will now likely meet next week.
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The battle so far
In a 5 January tweet, film director Ram Gopal Varma directly challenged Perni Nani, telling him that the government could put a cap on the prices of essential commodities if there was a “shortage”, but films did not come in that category.
Dear honourable minister of cinematography @perni_nani sir, I understand government might intervene and fix a price below or above the equilibrium when there’s a dire shortage of an essential commodity like wheat, rice , kerosene oil etc , But how does that apply to films sir ?
— Ram Gopal Varma (@RGVzoomin) January 4, 2022
Nani gave a biting riposte: “What kind of economics tells us to sell a Rs 100 ticket for Rs 1,000 or 2,000? Which law tells us this? And what is this market mechanism called? Is it demand and supply, or black-marketing?”
గౌరవనీయులైన @RGVzoomin గారూ…
మీ ట్వీట్లు చూశాను. నాకు ఉన్న సందేహాన్ని తెలియపరుస్తున్నాను. రూ.100 టికెట్ ను రూ.1000 కి, 2000కి అమ్ముకోవచ్చని ఏ బేసిక్ ఎకనమిక్స్ చెప్పాయ్? ఏ చట్టం చెప్పింది? దీన్ని ఏ మార్కెట్ మెకానిజం అంటారు? డిమాండ్ & సప్లై అంటారా? లేక బ్లాక్ మార్కెటింగ్ అంటారా?
— Perni Nani (@perni_nani) January 5, 2022
In Andhra Pradesh, ticket prices, especially in single-screen theatres, are usually jacked up to Rs 1,000 and sometimes even double that on the first day of a super star’s movie release.
Theatre owners, however, contend that they should be allowed to fix prices so as to break even since they have to compete with multiplexes and provide equivalent services, which have raised costs.
In September, actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan, who heads the opposition Jana Sena Party, lashed out at the ruling YSR Congress party and criticised the move to regulate ticket prices. His outburst came after the government cancelled ‘benefit shows’ of his movie Vakeel Saab in April.
As many as 225 theatre owners have filed petitions in the high court expressing their displeasure over the order. On 14 December, the court quashed the government order (GO), but following an appeal clarified that the GO still applied to all theatres except for the petitioners.
The matter was made even more fraught due to government raids that resulted in 83 theatres being sealed for allegedly violating fire safety norms and other rules. Theatre owners, however, alleged that the government’s actions were vindictive. The theatres in question have now been allowed to reopen.
Vijay Gopal, the founder of the NGO Forum Against Corruption, told ThePrint that although there is some need to regulate the cost of tickets, the government’s new price slabs are “unreasonable”.
“Some of the ticket prices are lower than the water bottle that the same theatre sells. The consumer spending index has not gone down. Reducing pricing makes sense if everything gets cheaper. The government must consider the consumer price index (CPI) at city, semi-urban and rural levels,” Gopal said, adding that the government must also consider separate slabs for different cities. “A multiplex in Hyderabad and one in a smaller town cannot have the same price,” he said.
What does the law say, and is govt hitting the right targets?
The Andhra Pradesh Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1955, allows the state government to set a limit for ticket prices in theatres, along with other provisions. This law also specifically mentions that no show should be run before 8.30 am and after midnight, but many theatres run ‘benefit shows’ at odd hours.
According to Gopal, who also runs an online ticket platform, it is high time for the government to run some interference in the arbitrary price hikes in movie theatres. These hikes, he alleged, are not unilaterally made by theatres but are greatly influenced by movie producers and distributors.
“I appreciate the political will of the government which is thinking about the common man, but the root cause of such hiked-up ticket prices in the market are the producers and the distributors who have great control over theatres,” Gopal said.
“Theatre managements don’t make any money from these ticket prices. Their source of income is the rent that a particular distributor/producer pays to the theatre as long as the movie is in the theatre. Their other source of revenue is the refreshments sold. So, why are they hiking prices then? It is the producers who make them do it,” he alleged, adding that if theatre owners do not comply, producers will simply not allow a release in that establishment.
Gopal further alleged that top producers have a monopoly over theatres in the state, and that the state government must ensure that no individual or their affiliates/subsidiaries should own or lease more than 10 per cent of theatres in the state.
“The reason why movie makers want such exorbitant prices for tickets is that they want to reap benefits in the first 48 hours of release of their high-budget movies. Once a review is out, especially in the age of social media, it is difficult to maintain that crowd for long,” Gopal said.
Notably, in contrast to Andhra Pradesh, the government of Telangana last month allowed theatre owners to hike prices by up to Rs 300 and also levy GST and maintenance charges, following an appeal by film producers.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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