City Pulse is a weekly report on Chennai's civic issues by the City Bureau. This week's report is by T. Madhavan and R. Sujatha.
Even as a debate rages over whether theatres should charge visitors for parking their vehicles, theatre owners are grappling with a new challenge: the State Human Rights Commission has taken cognizance of a patron's angst that eatables and beverages from home are not allowed during the show.
V.S. Suresh, an advocate, has stated in his complaint to the SHRC that Section 2 of the Tamil Nadu Cinema Regulation Act provides for safety and security of the audience. While the City Police Commissioner must ensure the rules are adhered to, in the suburbs and smaller towns the District Collector is held responsible for the same.
“Hygienic drinking water should be provided at theatres. Instead they make us buy drinking water at a very high price. This is a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution,” he says.
Patrons of some of the expensive multiplexes in the city say they are frisked at the theatre entrance and food items are confiscated. “We collect them on our way out,” a movie-goer said.
David Santhanaraj who sees five films a month says he does not mind paying parking fee for his scooter. “Canteens in theatres are purely for business and make you buy what they have,” he says. “Even if I spend Rs.2,000 a month, I still cannot watch 10 films.”
A canteen owner in one of the high-end theatres in the city defended the high prices saying, “Entertainment industry is based on impulse buying. I have to make you buy my product.”
In the suburbs, while some movie houses drew crowds after theatre owners upgraded facilities such as digital sound systems others are facing closure due to the increasing maintenance cost and a significant drop in occupancy rates. “We sometimes run the show for 30 visitors, which is not viable,” says a theatre owner in Avadi.
According to proprietor of Rakki Cinemas of Ambattur, Harigovind, the District Collectorate stipulates the price of tickets. He adds that they charge Rs.20 for car parking and Rs.10 for two wheelers, but nothing for bicycles.
“We do allow snacks, beverages and water bottles as a goodwill measure, but not ‘biriyani'. There is a ban on smoking and alcohol inside the theatre premises,” he says.
P. Kalyanasundaram, proprietor of Rajalakshmi Theatre in Velachery, and A. Mariappan, manager of Albert Theatre complex in Egmore, also echo his sentiments.
President of Theatre Owners' Association ‘Abirami' Ramanathan had this to say on the issue: “All theatres allow water bottles and infant food. We do not prevent a patron from taking any special food for an invalid reason.” Checking bags and ban on food items inside the theatres followed after complaints that “people were being robbed by strangers who gave them food items laced with drugs,” he says, adding “movie-goers are not coming for a picnic, but to enjoy themselves and we provide that.”
However, theatre owners say they do not pass on the huge tax benefit that they receive when a film with a Tamil name is screened to their patrons.