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Hit by Andhra Pradesh’s GO-35, India’s largest movie theatre throws in the towel

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The Andhra Pradesh government order (GO-35) has virtually had cinema theatres drop like nine pins. On Saturday, the management at V-epiq, India’s largest and Asia’s second largest movie theatre, voluntarily downed shutters.

The management has stated that they will not even be able to defray operational expenses if they run the show under the provisions of the state government’s GO-35.

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The state-of-the-art sprawling movie theatre is spread over 7.5 acres on the outskirts of Sullurpeta town in Nellore district. As per the government order, the theatre is categorised under ‘C’ class, and can price its tickets at Rs 30, Rs 20, and Rs 10, respectively.

UV Creations had set up the theatre which boasts of a 105-foot wide, and 54-foot high screen, with 3D surround sound system, and seating capacity of 670 people. The theatre complex also has two more screens, and seating for 170 persons. Prior to implementation of the GO, the tickets for the top two seating classes were priced at Rs 100 and Rs 200.

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In all, as many as 125 movie theatres, mostly located in village panchayat limits, had shut shop by Saturday, citing inability to operate profitably under the rules of the GO which has fixed theatre ticket prices based on their locations, as A, B, and C centres.

The movie sector in Andhra Pradesh has been in ferment ever since the state government headed by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy brought in the GO.

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As much as 15 per cent of the state’s 985 movie theatres have stopped screening movies, so far.

Meanwhile, the authorities have been swooping down on theatres to check for violations. Several theatres’ managements have been penalised with fines and some have been forced to cease operations for non-renewal of licenses or non-fulfillment of statutory obligations.

The current crisis has its roots in April this year, when the state government ushered in the GO-35. The GO coincided with the release of Pawan Kalyan movie ‘Vakeel Saab’ raising suspicions on the intent behind the government’s move.

As per the order, ticket prices have been capped at Rs 40, Rs 60, and Rs 100 in municipal corporation limits. Similarly, highest price is capped at Rs 70, Rs 50, and Rs 30, in municipal limits. The highest price is pegged at Rs 20 and lowest at Rs 10 for gram panchayats.

The controversial GO was suspended following an interim order by a single-judge bench of the AP High Court on December 14. However the state government appealed against the suspension following which the court said that theatre owners can make applications on ticket price revision proposals to the respective district joint collectors who would decide on the ticket prices.

A state-level committee is also to be set up for this. Industry insiders say it is practically difficult to get the prices revised.

The state government has all along been claiming that it has initiated the regulation process at the instance of the Telugu film industry.

Understandably, the issue has become political fodder, with the opposition parties like Telugu Desam, Jana Sena, and even the BJP attacking the YSRCP government in Andhra Pradesh.

While a few film stars have expressed their displeasure over ‘unreasonable’ capping of film ticket rates, it is exhibitors, distributors, and movie theatre owners who are feeling the pinch. Based out of Andhra Pradesh, unlike the actors and Tollywood industry big guns who operate out of Hyderabad in neighbouring Telangana, AP movie theatre operators feel vulnerable and refuse to open up on record.

However, they feel that they are just collateral damage in a high-stakes political war that is happening behind the scenes.

The ruling YSRCP is ranged against two ‘filmi’ parties – the TDP that was set up by famed thespian N.T. Rama Rao, while his son and popular actor Balakrishna is a TDP MLA and strong backer of party supremo Chandrababu Naidu. The Jana Sena Party founder Pawan Kalyan is one of Telugu filmdom’s biggest stars.

Industry insiders claim the GO-35 is the YSRCP party supremo’s plan to pull the rug from under the opposition parties’ feet.

For now, the Telugu movie industry, one of the largest in India, is staring at a blank screen. Ironically, the neighbouring state of Telangana had only on Saturday announced a hike in movie ticket prices. Truly a tale of two states…and one film industry!

–By Narendra Puppala

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