'City Pulse' keeps tabs on what Chennai's citizens think about issues that affect their everyday life.

A few years ago, the experience of watching a film was incomplete without digging into popcorn cartons or ice-cream cups. But, after multiplexes made an entry into the city with a promise of extravagance and luxury, buying popcorn and ice-creams ceased to be a norm for many theatre-goers. What ruled the theatres as staple snacks during intervals came in new flavours and with costlier price tags.

Along with the hike in the prices of tickets a few years ago, the charges on food and parking shot up, so much so that families soon began to tweak their monthly budget to accommodate a film.

Competing with single-screen theatres that once charged Rs. 30 for the 'executive class', multiplexes came with the promise of value for money with plush upholsteries and exotic food choices.

In 2007, the State government stipulated a cap on maximum rates charged by a theatre, bringing it within the range of Rs. 85 and Rs. 120 per ticket, depending on facilities offered. But, theatre-goers saw no difference, as the absence of any regulation to put a ceiling on the rates for value-added services continues to bite into their budget.

A film industry source says that most theatres customise their canteen products to fix their own rates and multiplexes do not allow food and water brought by viewers, citing security reasons. The State Human Rights Commission's recent order to enquire into a matter relating to city theatre not permitting viewers to bring their own drinking water and eatables inside has brought in focus the need to regulate the prices of such services.

According to Tamilnadu Theatre Owners' Association president R.M. Annamalai, the charge for food and beverages varies according to the quality of the products. Apart from security reasons, maintenance has become a major challenge for many theatres that allow food from outside.

“Also, occupancy rates in most theatres have come down due to rampant piracy. Single-screen theatres go for renovation to stay in the market and investment is very high for multiplexes. Canteen is one area where the theatre owners can earn some profit. But no theatre in the State charges unfair rates,” he says.

An administrator of a popular multiplex in central Chennai charging a minimum of Rs.10 and a maximum of Rs. 120 says they have been able to manage with the tariff quite comfortably. “Much depends on the content of the films screened. If the films are good, people come, no matter what,” he says.

Also, facilities provided in a theatre - such as restaurants, air conditioning, sound system, canteen, seats and toilets - have a lot to do with whether film buffs want to come back to the theatre to watch another film. “More than what we charge, fans are looking at what they get for what they pay,” he said.

Risk of closure?

Single-screen theatres, particularly those in suburbs, which still remain an affordable option for many, face the risk of closure with the advent of multiplexes. While some have undergone changes, many of the old theatres have been leased out.

Owners of single-screen theatres say they screen ‘second-release' movies as the procurement cost for them is less. A source from the 40-year-old Meenakshi Theatre in Avadi says that of the four theatres in their locality, two have been closed unable to withstand the stiff competition. “Often, we get only 60 seats filled out of 787 seats for a show,” he said.

But a few theatres remain unfazed by the competition. In Shenoy Nagar and neighbourhood, small-time theatres still draw crowds during matinee and night shows for tickets priced anywhere between Rs.7 and Rs. 30.

If higher rates in multiplexes are a dampener for movie-lovers, lack of amenities refrains many from watching movies in single-screen theatres. Most of the theatres in the suburbs are still not air-conditioned and hygiene is given a go-by in many of these places.

Theatre-goers who plan their finances for a film find the rates of tickets and amenities unreasonable. A.Rajendran, a resident of Padi said, he could watch movies for Rs.50 until three years ago. “We don't get tickets in multiplexes for less than Rs.100. Eatables' prices have increased four times. Parking fee is at least Rs.30 in some of these theatres.”

(With inputs from S. Aishwarya, K. Lakshmi and Meera Srinivasan)

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