CHENNAI: Tamil cinema is an inextricable part of the cultural mindspace of Tamil citizens. Understanding its influence, politicians, especially of the Dravidian movement, have long used the medium for propaganda purposes. The two communities — film and politics — therefore are closely bonded in the State and State governments have long prioritised the needs and demands of filmgoers. Just one example of this is how Tamil Nadu has arguably the lowest movie ticket prices in the country, a result of close regulation on part of the government.
In this context, the recent announcements of Kadambur C Raju, State Minister of Information and Publicity, on interventions that the government is planning has intrigued many in the film community. The minister has said that the TN government is planning to launch its own ticket-booking platform in a bid to curtail tax evasion among theatre-owners and ensure transparency. Further, the minister flagged high service charges as an issue for consumers that the government’s app would arrest.
This idea of a common ticket booking app with reduced service charges has been floated around for a while now. Notably, the former president of the Tamil Film Producers’ Council (TFPC), Vishal, had made such a promise and is said to have even laid the foundation for it, even if the plan wasn’t realised during his tenure. The TFPC, under Vishal, had argued that transparency on ticket sales was important in understanding the actual earnings of a movie and would enable the body to undertake more structural changes in how business was conducted. Understandably, then, producers seem to be happy with the government’s proposals.
Producer SS Durairaj, the former general secretary of the producers’ council, and a member of the eight-member committee formed by the government to develop a transparent ticketing channel, for one, expressed great satisfaction with this announcement. He believed that the ticketing app proposed by the government was an upgraded version of the one planned by the former TFPC committee.
“The team led by Vishal wanted to launch the transparent ticketing system at the earliest, and we had actually done the paperwork for it. However, we weren’t able to proceed further due to reasons that I cannot disclose now. We had many distractions, and among the issues we had to contend with were the legal cases filed by the rival faction,” he said, adding that he was nevertheless happy that the change was finally coming about.
“Our proposal has been accepted by the government. The entire process will take time, as you can imagine, but it will happen for sure. The new system is inevitable. Credit must also go to producers like J Sathish Kumar and T Siva, who are also a part of the eight-member committee,” he said.
But will other ticketing platforms be affected by this decision? Durairaj hoped that the plan wouldn’t face opposition from them. “The new ticketing system will encourage private booking platforms to reduce their service fee to match ours, and I don’t really foresee any resistance from them. Very soon, people will be able to book tickets for their entire family without paying hefty service charges for them.” BookMyShow presently charges Rs 35 as internet handling fees, inclusive of GST, for a single ticket priced at Rs 150.
Though Durairaj has expressed confidence that private vendors won’t have issues with the announcement, both BookMyShow and TicketNew have not commented on the matter so far. Ticket New’s spokesperson said they had been advised not to comment on this decision. The main stakeholders likely to face the impact of the proposed system are the theatres that organise early morning first day first shows and fan club screenings, considering that these shows are presently being organised outside the purview of usual screenings.
Theatre owners, like ticketing portals, therefore are holding out for more information about the proposed app. “We are yet to understand the rules,” said Gopi, manager of Kamala Cinemas. “We are waiting to understand all the nitty-gritties of the new ticketing system proposed by the government. In any case, all our records are already being documented through the existing booking system, so I don’t really think it will cause any great transition for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shanmugasundaram, manager of Udhayam Theatre, revealed that there was a small disagreement between the theatre owners and the government over this system. However, he remained tight-lipped about the details. “We have planned to discuss and sort out potential undesirable consequences with the theatre owners’ association first. Once we do that, we will collate them and take it to the government, asking for feasible solutions,” he said.
Interestingly, the proposed system has caused some outrage among a section of the fans. Vignesh Ram, an ardent Rajinikanth fan and a member of the star’s fan club, said he had always caught early morning shows of the star’s releases. He did not see the need for the government to interfere between arrangements fan clubs had made with theatres. “Both theatre owners and fan club members are comfortable with the existing arrangements for special shows. It’s an exciting experience to watch our favourite star’s film in the first show filled only with fan club members. We don’t want the government to ruin our experience,” he said.
The vision of a new ticketing app that brings all theatres under a single transparent system, seems at the moment, and could make theatre-going more affordable due to the reduced service charges. More importantly, for an industry notorious for its lack of transparency concerning box office figures, the proposed changes could really shake things up. The minister has also hinted at regulation of quality and prices at food and beverages and movie theatres, and even on salaries of actors. However, there are plenty of conversations to be had, hurdles to be crossed and stakeholders to be convinced before these changes — some of them seismic — can be implemented. As Gopi of Kamala Cinemas put it, “Let us see what happens during the coming weeks.”