Will higher priced cinema tickets save the Telugu cinema industry or spell its death knell? Serish Nanisetti discovers the new battleground

“Kya galeez cinema lagatey. Kaun dekhne ko ayega?” asks the parking attendant at a cinema hall in Lakdi Ka Pul as he scans the posters of a sad Telugu movie and a movie dubbed from Kannada. Inside the darkened hall, there are two dozen members in the audience to see the first day first show. If this is the case on Friday, the rest of the week's collection is anybody's guess.

For a movie industry which is producing duds by the dozen and hits as rare as a blue moon, the battle over ticket price is the newest canard after the strike over remuneration of technicians. In the battle for higher ticket prices at the marquee, it is the big versus the small. The small producers and the big producers are slugging it out over the price of tickets. At stake appears to be the money you pay at the ticket counter but in reality it has an impact on the kind of movies that you get to see.

The smaller producers want the prices to stay where they are, while the bigger producers want the ticket prices hiked so that they can recoup their big investments in a shorter frame of time. If one set of producers have met ministers and officials to hear their plea for higher ticket rates, another set of producers have passed a resolution in their AGM demanding status quo for ticket rates.

“The higher ticket prices are not something new. We tried it in 2005 when the ticket rates were hiked but within no time we realised it is hurting the industry, so the government withdrew the G.O. Now we don't understand the reason why these big producers are demanding a hike in ticket rates,” says Praveen Kumar of A.P. Film Producers' Council. “When people are thinking twice about going to movies when the ticket prices are Rs. 50 (raised from Rs. 35 in 2009), do you think they will go to movies if the prices are Rs. 70? This will spell the death knell of small producers and the industry,” he says.

Do lower ticket prices bring in the audience? “Yes. There is this theatre in Ameerpet which screens movies that have been broadcast on TV but people still throng it. If such theatres raise their prices then people will either sit at home and watch pirated movies or not watch movies at all,” say Shankar Goud who has earlier produced a few movies.

The ticket prices are one side of the story, the quality of the movie is another. Out of the 113 movies released last year only seven proved to be profitable. Out of the seven, the biggest grosser was a movie dubbed from Tamil and another didn't make any money despite grossing nearly Rs. 35 crores.

“A few producers want higher ticket rates so that they can keep making movies with their family members irrespective of the quality,” says another producer who is waiting to launch his daughter as a director. “Higher priced tickets are tickets to laziness and slovenliness for producers. We have just heard that Ileana has been signed on for a movie with Rs. 2.25 crore. Big stars, big directors and greedy music directors know their real worth. So they want to make the money in the first few weeks before the audience realise the movie is bad,” he says.