New Delhi: During its opening weekend beginning January 25, tickets of Kangana Ranaut-starrer Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi were available for as much as Rs. 480 and Rs. 433 in New Delhi and Mumbai, respectively. For a film like Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero that was released prior to the GST reduction, rates also ranged around ₹425 in the capital.
Clearly, for audiences hoping to benefit from reduction in GST rates that movie stars and filmmakers have been gung-ho about, there is no respite yet.
This is thanks to theatre chains in north India that are under no compulsion to bring prices down, unlike south India that follows a strict government mandate.
Both PVR Cinemas and Cinepolis India sold Manikarnika tickets for ₹300-480 depending on locations in New Delhi, INOX Leisure Ltd, went from Rs. 295 to ₹442. In Mumbai, PVR rates ranged from ₹200 to ₹433 while Cinepolis managed with ₹285-361. In stark contrast, rates for Manikarnika in Chennai were as low as Rs. 63 and going up to Rs. 162 for both PVR and INOX. Even a Tamil film, Rajiniknath’s Petta, was sold for Rs. 248 in Delhi and Rs. 60 in Chennai.
“The right to increase prices, as always, stays with the theatres. It is silly to expect a ₹500 ticket to ever come down to ₹100 or ₹200. It is quite clear that the reduction in GST is not to benefit the consumer but the theatres," said trade analyst Amod Mehra.
Mehra said the only option for audiences is to go to less posh theatres. But the problem is that there are fewer and fewer single screen theatres. The monopoly tactics of Indian exhibition chains will not be curbed unless the government passes an ordinance to put a ceiling on ticket prices like in the south where movie tickets cannot be sold for more than ₹150, Mehra added.
“As a chain, we’ve of course decided to pass on GST benefits to the consumer. But by principle, we follow three types of pricing depending on the movie in question -- normal, blockbuster and mega blockbuster," said Devang Sampat, director – India Strategic Initiatives, Cinépolis India. Sampat added that exhibition players have to keep factors like the movie’s cost of production in mind, plus sometimes there are requests from producers to hike prices, besides annual incremental costs to run theatres. He said the exhibition industry recognizes the importance of GST benefits that they had been fighting for together. At 28% rates fixed by the GST Council last year, cinema was unfairly clubbed with luxury activities like gambling. Reduction to 18% late last month was a matter of huge relief.
“The government finally decided to hear our plea and reduce the tax. Our business model is quite clear and India has one of the lowest ticket prices in the world. For films in the same category, why would we not pass on benefits to the consumer?" Sampat said.
PVR and INOX did not respond to Mint’s queries.
Some feel that high ticket prices affect smaller films. “The worst hit are the smaller films. Would you pay these prices for a film like Bombairiya?" asks Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. Directed by Pia Sukanya, Bombairiya is a black comedy starring Radhika Apte, Adil Hussain and Akshay Oberoi that released earlier this month and has made Rs. 14 lakh in collections so far. “In this age where everyone has a smartphone, you’re just encouraging piracy and discouraging people from coming to cinema halls. It only hampers your own footfalls and food and beverage sales in the long run," Mohan said.