Kaashmora, Kodi, Saithan
Stills from the Diwali film releases Kaashmora, Kodi, SaithanCollage of photos taken from Twitter and Facebook

The debate on whether to hike ticket prices in Tamil Nadu has been going on for the last few years. Now, the Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors' Association (TNFEA) has finally taken the legal route to bring about a hike in ticket prices. The TNFEA demanded a 150 to 200 percent hike in ticket prices, which the government had rejected as it was felt to be too steep. A PIL was filed by the TNFEA in the high court resulting in the court setting aside the government order.

In Tamil Nadu, the government had always put a ceiling for the pricing of a theatre ticket. The maximum a theatre ticket has ever been priced at is Rs 120 and ticket prices have not been increased in the state for nearly a decade now. So what warrants an increase in theatre ticket prices today?

The TNFEA states that the cost of electricity, operations, salaries and the entertainment tax levied by the government (30 percent) has increased drastically over the last 10 years. With no increase in ticket prices and rising costs, the financial burden has moved onto the exhibitors.

Noted Tamil producer P Madan of Escape Artists Motion Pictures says that ticket prices should definitely be increased. "I think they should have three categories of theatres and price the tickets differently for the three slabs. The government can fix the ticket prices and introduce a centralised ticketing system. The tax can then be automatically credited to the government as well," explains Madan. Theatres can be classified by the amenities they have or according to the number of screens is the opinion of some producers.

Flexi ticket pricing like Bollywood

However, in the Hindi film industry, it's the flexi ticket pricing system that is in place. Tickets are most expensive during the first three days of a film's release. Post that, the ticket prices are reduced. This system ensures that it's a win-win for the exhibitor and the audience as well.

There is a need for such a system in Tamil Nadu as well feels G Dhananjayan producer-distributor and founder of BOFTA Film Institute, Chennai. He says, "The ceiling on the ticket price works against the growth of the Tamil film industry. With 90% of the films being given entertainment tax exemption today, obviously, the question is why should the ticket price be increased. But what this artificial enforcement of a ceiling on the ticket price has done is that it has encouraged tickets being sold for large amounts in black and theatres charging exorbitantly for eatables in their cafeteria."

Exactly what the ticket price should be hiked to is another matter, which the government and exhibitors need to tackle. While in Mumbai a ticket for films of stars like Salman Khan go for between Rs 500 to Rs 600, in Tamil Nadu the pricing of a ticket at this rate is seen as unrealistic and unaffordable by the audience.

"Ideally, the ticket price in Tamil Nadu can be increased by 30 to 40%," adds Madan. "If we make the ticket price between Rs 500 to Rs 600 then heroes will also start to increase their salaries. Moreover, it's not affordable for the audience here. The audience won't mind paying a little more if they have a good ambience and facilities in the theatre."

The Kerala Example

In 2013, Kerala set about increasing the ticket prices due to increasing expenditure. Today, you can easily shell out Rs 300 for a movie ticket in Kerala in some theatres. Dhananjayan says emphatically, "In Kerala, there is no tax exemption given and the producers are just asked to pay the tax. Tamil Nadu has a freebie culture but that should stop. This should be treated like a business and while increasing ticket prices may affect the business in the short-term, it is very beneficial in the long-run. The market economy should determine the pricing."

As for whether the increase in ticket prices will impact the number of people going to watch small budget films, Madan has an interesting take. He says, "Even those in the film industry just watch 50% of the films that release. Whether it's a big film or small film, the audience comes to theatre to watch a good film. It's the responsibility of the creators to ensure they deliver a good film."

As of now, the government has a month to revert to the high court on the TNFEA's plea. With the Tamil film industry united in their demand for a hike in ticket prices, it looks like the theatre-going experience is set to be tad costlier soon.