The row over cinema theatre ticket prices in Andhra Pradesh continued unabated as the panel set up by the state government met on Tuesday but could not take a decision, while well-known filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma again hit out at the state government for taking decisions detrimental to the interests of film industry.
The committee met for the second time since it was constituted late last month to examine and rationalise the rates of admission into cinema halls in the state. The meeting was presided over by Principal Secretary (Home), Kumar Vishwajeet.
Film exhibitor Vemuri Bala Ratnam said they made suggestions on ticket prices, especially in rural areas. “We told the committee that with the reduced prices, the theatre owners can’t even pay the electricity bills,” he said.
It was brought to the committee’s notice that 200 theatres have been shut across the state due to slashing of ticket prices. They also wanted some relaxation in rules for theatres.
Committee member on behalf of cinegoers, Gampa Lakshmi, said they stressed the need for rationalisation of ticket prices. The meeting discussed suggestions relating to the provision of basic facilities in cinema halls.
The committee was constituted as per the orders of Andhra Pradesh High Court which had struck down GO 35, under which the state government had slashed cinema ticket prices.
The government said the committee will take into account all the factors relevant to the fixation of admission rates like classification of theatres such as multiplexes and single screens and the amenities required to be provided to the cinegores.
The panel comprises principal secretaries, information and public relations commissioner, law department secretary, representatives of film exhibitors, distributors and cinegoers.
Meanwhile, a day after holding talks with Minister for Cinematography, Perni Venkataramaiah (Nani), Ram Gopal Varma on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on the state government.
In a series of tweets, Varma questioned the government’s action in cutting down ticket prices.
He urged the government to leave ticket pricing, number of shows and timings of shows to the film industry and just concentrate both its energy and resources on enforcing safety regulations and collection of its due taxes.
He wondered if the government is putting a restriction on the sale price of any other privately manufactured product apart from films.
“How can a Rs 500 crore film like ‘RRR’ and a film costing just Rs 1 crore be forced to sell tickets at the same price,” he asked, referring to the government’s contention that the ticket prices should be uniform for all the films, irrespective of the banner or the stars.
Some sections of the film industry feel that the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is targeting his political opponents who are also the biggest stars oof Tollywood, such as Pawan Kalyan and Balakrishna.
RGV, as the Varma is popularly known, pointed out that Maharashtra is allowing Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ tickets to sell at Rs 2,200 but his home state Andhra Pradesh is not even allowing it to sell them for Rs 200.
“In another state, tickets being sold for even Rs 2,200 and in AP state if even Rs 200 isn’t allowed, isn’t it in direct violation of Article 14 which prohibits discrimination,” RGV asked.
After the meeting with RGV, the state minister had said that the government is empowered to fix the prices of movie tickets as per the Cinematograph Act, 1956.
The filmmaker said that the way the Act was suddenly dug out and implemented by the government after 70 years is unacceptable. He called for challenging the Act in court.
RGV also wondered why should the government have a problem with how much a producer is paying to a star, unless it has prior knowledge of some criminal intimidation or extortion by the film star trying to extract money from the producer.
“With regard to why Pawan Kalyan or any other star should be paid so much, if we break an i-phone and calculate the actual cost of the material used, it might not even be Rs 1,000 but it’s sold for almost Rs 2 lakh because of the idea, the brand and market demand,” he tweeted.
The filmmaker stated that what the government is not supposed to do directly, it is doing indirectly by applying an excessive exercise of authority by compelling tickets to be sold at lower rates.
He warned that forced lowering of ticket prices may lead to collapse of the theatre exhibition system or “the entire system will start running in black which will be bad both for the film industry and the government”.
Cinema owners in the state have been at loggerheads with the government ever since the latter fixed the new rates under a government order issued in April 2021. They say the slashed prices have made their business unviable.
The recent crackdown on theatres by the authorities for allegedly not adhering to certain norms has only made the matters worse for them. This has resulted in the closure of several theatres during the last few weeks.