When popcorn makes your eyes pop

Middle-class film-goers shudder the moment ‘intermission’ is announced during the movie at the multiplex. As the youngsters rise up expectantly, to buy a carton of popcorn and gulp down a bucket of popular aerated drinks, parents who accompany them reluctantly reach for their wallets, knowing well that they have to dig deep to foot the bill at the snack counter. It’s going to cost them more than the movie tickets did.

Going to the movies at plush multiplexes on weekends may have become a favourite family outing for the middle-class, for it gives them a momentary sense of affluence. But, buying a snack at exorbitant price serves as an anti-climax, bringing them back to reality with a thud.

From August 1, though, the Maharashtra government has directed the multiplexes in that state to allow people to bring their own food from outside.

Invoking clauses in the 1966 Maharashtra Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, it has sent stern directions to the multiplex cinemas not to prohibit movie-goers from carrying snacks from outside.

The government has cited the ban on dual pricing, too, which says the same product cannot be sold at different prices — invariably above the suggested maximum retail price — at different places. It is reassuring to the film-goers in Maharashtra, whose capital Mumbai is also the centre of movie-making in India.

“Usually, our experience is that no film ran for more than a few days in any multiplex, while they ran for long in single-screen cinemas. We found out that common people had chosen to move away from the multiplexes because they could not get mid-movie snacks at reasonable prices.

Following the directives of the government not to ban outside snacks in the multiplexes, from August 1, there is a spurt in ticket sales at the multiplexes even to films that were released last week,” says Ramanath Naik, a member of the Mumbai Mahanagar Movie Goers’ Association.

But now, movie-goers in Karnataka are asking for equal treatment. Are the movie-goers in Karnataka any different from those in Maharashtra? If Maharashtra can direct multiplex cinemas to allow food from outside, why can’t Karnataka?

The multiplexes in Karnataka are among the best in the country, alongside those in Mumbai and Hyderabad. The share of the food and beverage (F&B) concessionaires are to the tune of 25-30% of earnings of the multiplexes in Karnataka, as against 27-32% nationally.

Many metros like Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi and Hyderabad had caught on with the F&B earning share of multiplexes at least five years earlier than Bengaluru. However, the state has caught up faster than those metros, say managers at Inox. Serious movie-goers feel cheated when they see the prices at the snack bar.

“Rs 400 for two tubs of popcorn and two colas is way too high by any standard. But again, we cannot deny our children these,” says Santhosh Menezes, an exporter and a diehard movie buff in Mangaluru.

But the Maharashtra government’s move could prove to be a game-changer, with its impact felt in Karnataka, too.Fringe groups like the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, Tulunadu Rakshana Vedike have already said what’s on their mind.

“We know what the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) did in multiplexes in Mumbai, Thane and Pune. Their protests have had impact.

The primary purpose of a cinema is to screen movies. Yes, there has to be a snack bar, too, but not to sell popcorn and aerated drinks at three times the price of the movie ticket itself. We will not hesitate to emulate the MNS way of controlling such extortionist tendencies.”  

Talks have been held between the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce and stake-holders from Bengaluru, Mysuru and other tier 2 cities.

The meeting, brokered by the minister for food and civil supplies Zameer Ahmed Khan, took serious note of the concerns expressed by the chamber, the fringe groups and consumers’ associations. A government order is expected soon, according to officials.

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