After the assault of a multiplex manager in Pune over the price of popcorn, cinemas say that hooliganism over such petty issues is quite common, but go unreported because they don’t want bad publicity
Rachana Dubey (BOMBAY TIMES; July 2, 2018)

Last week, a group of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers thrashed the manager of a PVR multiplex in Pune over the price of food items sold there. A video of the incident soon went viral on social media. While several incidents of hooliganism and vandalism in cinema halls, by groups protesting the release of films, have been reported from across the country, assaulting of cinema hall staff over food prices is a rarity. However, a few exhibitors insist that now, they have to deal with hooligans not only when a film offends a group, but also for ‘cold popcorn’, ‘tasteless coffee’, ‘high rate of food items’, and ‘unnecessary frisking’. They say that even stopping drunk moviegoers can prove dangerous for the safety of their staff and patrons.

Meanwhile, PVR has filed an FIR against the attackers. In an official statement, Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas, says, “Safety and security of our employees and of our patrons is of utmost importance to us and we take all adequate measures to secure our employees and patrons. Handling unlawful action, violence and maintaining law and order in the city is the responsibility of the state government and the state police. We have full confidence in them, we are working with them closely so that appropriate steps can be taken in this matter at the soonest.”

Manoj Desai, executive director of G7 and Maratha Mandir, says, “Every cinema hall or chain charges a price they think is apt for tickets and food. We don’t charge over Rs 30 for food and Rs 100 for tickets. We cater to the masses. As for the episode in Pune, let me tell you that such incidents can happen in Mumbai. So many times, political party workers try to get their point across. The person talking to them has to be tactful and polite. I don’t see any other way out.”

Yogesh Raizada, Corporate Head, Wave Cinemas, agrees, “We are in the hospitality industry and this is a given in our industry. We train our staff to be polite, but firm. However, we can’t stop such incidents completely and will have to deal with this hooliganism. No one in the industry can name even one cinema hall where the exhibitor or the staff members haven’t faced hooligans. But we don’t complain because it’s bad publicity for us.”

Nitin Datar, President, Cinema Owners and Exhibitors association of India says, “What happened in Pune was a shameful act. No one should take law into their hands, no matter what. People can always complain to the authorities, but as we can see, the situation is becoming deplorable, especially in cinema halls. Whether it’s about the prices of tickets or eatables, or the decision to run a film which has been cleared for release, people working at cinemas are bound to feel mentally and physically threatened because of protestors.”

Datar points out that the matter relating to revision in food prices is in court. The other problem is whether a patron can bring his or her own food inside the halls or not. “Even that matter is before the court. As far as I understand, no place except Delhi has a law prohibiting food from being taken inside the hall. Multiplexes have argued that if this can be allowed in one state, it should be in other states, too. Personally, I feel that they should allow children, sick people or the elderly to take their food, water and medicines inside the hall.”

He adds, “Multiplexes feel that they pay higher overheads and rents and eventually, the burden is passed on to the consumer. There is no law that restricts a person or an organisation from charging a fee they think is feasible for their products and/or services. Many years ago, the government of Maharashtra had passed a Government Resolution (GR), capping the rates of tickets, but cinema owners moved court against it and got it negated. So, it’s up to the public as to where they want to watch a film and whether they are willing to pay a price.”

Meanwhile, the Retail Association of India has also condemned the Pune attack. “Maharashtra is a state that recognises and respects the contribution of retail to the economy. It is the first state to initiate a policy especially for retail, that has helped increase the ease of doing business and employment in the sector. RAI condemns acts of violence against retail employees in Pune, who work hard to serve customers. Such acts are against the law, disrupt business and endanger the lives of retail employees. We trust the government to serve justice,” a statement issued by the association reads.

Arun Surve from MNS, whose member Kishor Shinde attacked the employee at PVR, Pune, says, “We have conducted similar protests in Mumbai also. If a bottle of water costs Rs 15, why should anyone pay Rs 100 for it inside a multiplex? I understand that there will be a price difference, but the margins that there are currently between the prices are too steep which we think is not a fair practice. In April, even the Bombay High Court had said that multiplexes are charging high prices. I want to understand what these taxes are that only multiplexes pay, for which they extort money from patrons. There is no law that can stop anyone from taking their ghar ka paani and khaana inside a cinema hall, but they don’t let us do that. When employees at these cinema halls are spoken to politely, they refuse to act on what we’re saying. As workers from a party, we’re not goons but as public representatives, we’re trying to underline the sentiments of the aam aadmi.”

With inputs from Niharika Lal