Afternoon Voice

Why is govt mute on #Multiplexloot ?

The Maharashtra government “does not have any rules to regulate the rates of the food provided at the multiplexes” and this is what the Fadnavis government has informed the Bombay High Court after it slammed the administration on Wednesday over “exorbitant” rates of food and beverage (F&B) items sold at multiplexes across Maharashtra. The high court has also asked the reason of government’s inability to step in and regulate the prices in the theatres under the Bombay Police Act.

Thane resident Anup Thakur noted, “The state should review and monitor the prices of the F&B items sold inside the theatres and make sure the allowance of the outside food. There must be strict action against the violation of MRP rules across the country.”

This came after the court heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Jainendra Baxi, through his lawyer Aditya Pratap. The PIL mentioned that the Maharashtra Cinemas (Regulation) Rules “prohibit private movie theatres or multiplex chains from hawking perishable items inside the theatre, which is being brazenly done not just in the state but across the country.”

However, this is not the first time that the Bombay HC has reminded the government of its responsibility to act by either allowing public to carry their own food inside or regulating the food prices sold inside the theatre. It’s been quite a few times since Jan 2018 that the high court has alerted the administration and this is followed by their promise to frame policies soon — but it seems the state government is in no mood to pay heed to the concern of the moviegoers who’re getting looted by the multiplex owners.

During the hearing on June 27, Iqbal Chagla, the senior counsel for the Multiplexes Owners’ Association argued that it’s one’s choice to buy a glass of cola for Rs 200 at multiplexes and stated “security” as the reason that food from outside is not allowed in movie halls. In reply, the division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai confronted, “In short, you are compelling the public to buy the food you sell at a price that suits you.”

Actress Samidha Guru said, “The rates of F&B in theatres must be affordable for all. Though a little extra price for the maintenance can be adjusted, but nowadays, the prices are way beyond one’s movie outing budget. Outside food must be allowed.”

Munching items like popcorn and other snacks during a movie outing has become a regular habit of the cinegoers even though it burns our pocket as we end up spending more on F&B than the tickets! On an average, a movie tickets costs around Rs 150 in metro cities but food and drinks consume Rs 400- Rs 500. While a small bucket of popcorn costs you around Rs 190, a glass of a soft drink starts from Rs 150 – Rs 180 and you have to shell out Rs 40- Rs 50 for a litre of water bottle.

While the situation is same everywhere across the country, action taken against 12 multiplexes in Delhi by the Weights and Measures Department shows a ray of hope. In March 2017, after few AAP MLAs complained against overcharged foods inside theatres, department’s surprise inspection acted as a boon.

Film distributor Joginder Mahajan called the PIL asking regulated food prices inside the theatres “wrong” and stated, “It is impossible to cut down prices of F&B items in the theatres. The court should reconsider their statement as they are not running the expenditure of the multiplexes. We will wait for the government’s decision. There is a huge amount required to maintain the day to day expenses in a multiplex and in case of price regulation, we won’t be able to maintain service standard.”

While moviegoers feel there must be a check on the prices, the multiplex owners cry loss in their businesses as according to them a large portion of their income comes from the F&B items and installing X-ray machines would lead to additional expenditures which they cannot bear.

Prakash Chaphalkar, Secretary of Multiplex Association of India expressed, “Deciding prices of F&B in theatres is not government’s job but since the matter is under judicial scrutiny, we will follow whatever the court decides. Who sells popcorn for Rs 5? How is it possible if the cinegoers want lavish service quality but deny paying for the same? Moreover, internal security comes under question in case of allowance of outside food inside the multiplexes.”

When AV tried contacting Gaurav Gupta, AGM (Media Alliance), Carnival Cinemas and Anju Rai, Distributor, Viacom 18, they refused to comment.

The Bombay HC has directed the state to file an affidavit within four weeks mentioning a clear stand on introducing necessary regulations and posted the matter for hearing on July 25.

While the moviegoers are expecting some relief from the state, MNS worker Kishor Shinde tried dealing with it in “MNS style” and attacked a Pune movie theatre manager on Thursday while protesting against the high prices of food items in the theatre.

Ameya Khopkar, President of MNS Chitrapat Karmachari Sena insisted the government to abide by HC’s order and regulate prices inside theatres.“MNS party workers will make sure the implementation of court’s opinion to lessen F&B item charges and in failing of which, the state must cancel the licenses of those multiplexes,” he added.