Today, I can walk into an air-conditioned multiplex cinema in Tamil Nadu paying Rs 153 and some paise. A month or so ago, the rate was Rs 120. But come October 18, Deepawali day, I have to pay Rs 207 and 45 paise to watch a film in a multiplex auditorium. And this is for Tamil movies alone.
The ticket price is still higher for a film in other languages.
In a state like Tamil Nadu (and adjoining Puducherry is no exception and is often referred to as the piracy capital of India) where pirates have ruled for years, flooding the market with unbelievably cheap and illegal disks of the latest movies, the latest price hike may well spell the death knell of the local industry.
Even many, many years ago, I have seen pirated disks of popular Tamil hits in Tokyo – and that too on the day of their releases. Years later, the picture has not changed. Rather, the manufacture and distribution networks of such unlawful activity seem stronger, and I know that I can walk into any of these small shopping complexes in Chennai and ask for the latest Tamil film. And, I will get it and for just Rs 40 a piece! Maybe even less!
So, I have never been surprised to see near empty halls in multiplex complexes once the opening weekend is over.
On Friday (October 13) evening, I walked into Escape in a swanky Chennai mall to watch an evening show of Vijay Sethupathi's interestingly done, Karuppan, and could count about a dozen people in a singularly large auditorium.
As a veteran market watcher told me, I must be grateful that the theatre concerned ran the show at all. Single screen halls in Chennai and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu often cancel a screening and refund the ticket price when they find an abysmal lack of patronage. Nobody is going to hold a show with a handful of men and women.
Sadly, an already tottering Tamil cinema is, in all likelihood, going to gasp even more with the almost doubling of ticket prices. And with an unrealistic rise in the number of Tamil movies being made year after year – an output that resembles a factory line production – the choice is bewildering for the man on the street. How does he pick what to see on a weekend when three to five films open? When he does chose a movie, he may go wrong and end up watching something he finds bad, and in a once-bitten-twice-shy kind of mental agony, he may well give cinema a miss for several weeks. Or, start patronising the pirate!
What to me appears even more distasteful is the Tamil Nadu's move to bring in protectionism by levying a higher local body tax of 20 per cent (as opposed to the eight per cent for a Tamil film) on movies from other states.
It is only in very recent years that Chennai began seeing a trickle of Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada films. The city hardly ever saw a Bengali or a Marathi or an Assamese work, although most Hindi movies got some kind of screen space in the city.
But beyond all this, I am appalled by an entire concept going awry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of one nation, one tax appears to have been thrown out of the window in Tamil Nadu.
In the final analysis, while I understand the need for theatres to raise their ticket rates – with the cap of Rs 120 in a multiplex cinema and lower pricing for other kinds of halls having been in force for over a decade – the additional eight percent (20 per cent for other language fare) over and above the Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 28 per cent (lower for single screen cinemas) looks like a killer all right.
As the market watcher added, the Tamil Nadu government should have allowed the natural progression in ticket prices over the years, instead of almost doubling them at one go – as it has now done!
This additional burden coming in the wake of the reported economic downturn following demonetisation, the introduction of the GST and the resultant rise in joblessness (with dozens of small enterprises pulling down their shutters) will not augur well for cinema as a whole in Tamil Nadu – a state whose buying power is nowhere comparable with that of Karnataka or Maharashtra or Delhi (maybe even Andhra).
The moot point is, will the sudden jacking up of movie ticket prices be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the Tamil cinema industry -- already suffering because of the problem of plenty, a plenty that has a liberal dose of rank bad stuff?