With the Karnataka Government introducing a cap on the cost of film tickets, BT finds out if this move can be replicated in Maharashtra and the effects it could have...
Rachana Dubey and Tanvi Trivedi (BOMBAY TIMES; May 4, 2017)

Karnataka has joined the league of states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, by introducing a cap on the cost of movie tickets. The order was issued on Tuesday, capping the maximum price of movie tickets in all theatres, including multiplexes, at Rs 200. However, Gold Class tickets have been exempted from this exercise on the condition that the number of seats in that category cannot be more than 10 per cent of the total seating capacity of a theatre.

While inflated ticket prices help push movies into the Rs 100-crore clubs effortlessly, it burns a huge hole in the aam aadmi's pocket. In the given scenario, one wonders if such an exercise will be conducted in Maharashtra, too. For example, the ticket rates for Baahubali: ­ The Conclusion during weekdays range between Rs 160 and Rs 400 a ticket through the day. The release weekend was costlier, and the upcoming weekend might see a repeat performance.

Keeping this in perspective and Karnataka's current cap on costs, we spoke to Mukesh Bhatt, an independent film producer, who has been the chief of the film and television producers' guild. He says, “We've been trying to speak to the state and central governments about this for five years now. Ticket prices have to be lower. None of us have anything against someone's film doing well, but absurdly high pricing is not the way to do it. Ticket prices have to be viable and for that, a lot of undue taxation has to be curbed, which largely starts at the production level. If the landing cost a film can be brought down, so can ticket prices. Cinema halls hike up prices because they have overheads to pay. So, it's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.“

Previously too, price escalation has been experienced during festive releases. Films that open on Diwali, Christmas and Eid have often been screened at sky-high rates during weekends, though ticket costs were brought down considerably during the weekdays.

However, not everyone is batting for the move. Distributor and theatre owner Hemant Shah believes that the price of a ticket should be determined by the quality of the film. He explains, “If you want something premium, you have to pay the appropriate price. How will you recover the huge investment on a big movie? It's okay if Karnataka government has done it, but prices vary from government to government. It also depends on the tax system in individual states and the kind of cinema hall where the film is screened.“

Kamal Gianchandani, the CEO of a leading cinema chain, echoes Shah's opinion. He says, “Only services that come under the 'essential' category should be considered for a pricing cap, all other services should be left to the market forces of demand and supply. It's a myth that multiplexes and cinemas don't offer cheaper options. All multiplexes in the country offer variable pricing for different days and show timings.“

On the other hand, some are in favour of capping ticket rates. Amod Mehra, an independent distributor, feels that lower ticket costs will result in more footfall. “Theatre owners can recover their costs, but it's the producers and the smaller films that suffer because of high pricing. If the tickets of a smaller film cost high, it won't invite footfall and eventually, the film will make a discreet exit from the cinemas, sometimes even before enjoying a weekend run. For that matter, even a big-ticket film can face a similar situation. Ticket prices should be controlled. In some cases, they go through the roof, which shouldn't happen,“ he says.

The government of Maharashtra levies approximately 45 per cent tax on tickets, which is higher than what is charged by most states. Manoj Desai, the head honcho of a single-screen chain, rues, “It's a lot for any cinema chain to pay. At Gaiety, Galaxy and Maratha Mandir, we never escalate prices, but overall, everyone does because the cost of a film has to be recovered. If the government introduces a cap in the ticket costs, it will have to revise its tax scheme, but no effort has been made in this direction, which is why people watch pirated copies of films instead of coming to cinema halls.“

In all of this, it's the consumer who suffers the most, given the holes ticket prices burn in their pockets. The more prominent the release window, the higher the damages for aam aadmi. Marketing consultant Pooja Saluja says, “Going for a movie in Mumbai has become a luxury that not many can afford. Watching a film as a family with kids every weekend is expensive.In addition to the ticket prices, we are also paying for refreshments, which are costly.“

Faizuddin Khan, an art director in a media company, compares ticket pricing to the share market. He points out, “The prices are constantly changing. Every film and every show seems to have different rates. Earlier, watching a movie was an experience, and I used to watch movies every week, but now, I wait for reviews. Only if I find something worthy, I invest in a ticket.Otherwise, TV pe to aayegi hi.“

Inputs from Hiren Kotwani