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Multiplexes face flak for charging high prices for small films

Cinema chains that have suffered covid-induced losses for several months and continue to witness curbs and shutdowns in several parts of the country, are now being accused of ruining chances of small-scale films in theatres by hiking ticket prices.

Film trade experts said multiplexes priced small-budget films at the same rate as tent-pole titles like Spider-Man. Recent films like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and Tadap were at a disadvantage with their tickets in the same price range as high-scale Spider-Man: No Way Home or Sooryavanshi. The move does not augur well at a time when films are available on streaming platforms within four weeks of theatrical release. Also, over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Netflix are slashing prices to woo customers.

A film producer said multiplexes know that small-budget films do not usually find a large audience in theatres. But pent-up demand or unavailability of tickets for big films could have pushed viewers towards these low-profile films. “So they should at least get that option. High prices will just backfire and theatres need to wake up to this,” said the producer declining to be named. It is unreasonable to expect a viewer to shell out Rs. 500 for both Spider-Man and Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, the person added.

“It’s clear that multiplexes are out there to make a billing but the prices that they charge for say, an RRR or Spider-Man will not work for the smaller films,” independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said. The same holds true for the south as well. Even though films in southern India have seen better footfalls, smaller Tamil and Telugu films are struggling. Even OTT platforms have begun to prioritize big star vehicles, limiting options for them, Pillai said.

Film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said the past few weeks have seen instances of premium theatres in cities like Mumbai operating at high prices and with low occupancies. “Audiences will definitely find the film less attractive at a time when everyone is being cautious about spending or going out, in general and the economic situation is at its worst,” Johar said.

Last month, Netflix announced an 18-60% rate cut across its streaming plans, in an effort to woo wider audiences and deepen its penetration in India. Netflix’s mobile-only plan, earlier priced at Rs. 199 per month, now costs Rs. 149. The basic plan that allows access to all content on any one device is priced at Rs. 199 versus Rs. 499 earlier.

Defending cinema chains, Kamal Gianchandani, president of the Multiplex Association of India said theatres have always practiced variable pricing depending upon films, shows and day of the week. “The fact that people have been coming to cinemas in big numbers shows that it is a unique experience that cannot be replicated at home, and one that they are willing to pay for,” Gianchandani said. There has been a 17.5% jump in average ticket prices at multiplexes and a 20% rise in F&B (food and beverage) revenue per patron compared to pre-covid. Besides, mid-sized films like Doctor and Maanaadu, both in Tamil and several titles in Punjabi and Bengali too have performed well at the box office. “We just need a couple of cases in Hindi now to nullify the narrative around smaller films being better suited to OTT,” he said. Live Mint

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