In this hectic lifestyle, cinema serves the dual purpose of entertainment and stress reliever. However, watching movies has become a costlier affair with the advent of multiplexes in major cities and towns.
Thanks to the exorbitant rates of the snacks sold inside coupled with a self-proclaimed ban on outside food, watching a film these days ends up burning a large hole in our pockets.
One is left shocked when it comes to these expenses as there are instances when one doesn’t understand if the food bill is equal to or more than the movie ticket that one bought.
The issue was taken up in the Bombay High Court last month. Further, a PIL was also recently filed in the Hyderabad High Court regarding the regulation of food items at multiplexes but it was dismissed on 22 August.
In June this year, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) agitated against the skyrocketing prices of samosas and chips sold at the movie theaters. The violent means of protest along with drawing criticism also served as a platform to debate the exorbitant food prices in multiplexes.
Following the agitation, the Maharashtra government announced that outside food will be allowed in the multiplexes.
According to a Firstpost report, Ravindra Chavan, Maharashtra Food, and Civil Supplies Minister had announced in Vidhan Parishad in July that there would be no ban on carrying own food items inside multiplexes. But the assurance remained as a mere announcement and at many places, viewers are not allowed inside with their own food. An avid movie watcher Athulya Nambiar said, “Last time I had a chewing gum packet, not even food, even that was seized and returned later.”
An independent PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the prohibition of outside food in the theaters. While arguing on the matter, Advocate Aditya Pratap representing the petitioner had said that there is no statutory provision restricting an individual from eating outside food inside the movie hall. The state government stated security reasons to restrict the audience from bringing food inside the theatres.
While taking to TNIE Pratap said, “Right to food is given to every citizen under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees right to life. Therefore the government’s stand on the issue is not in good faith. Moreover, the Maharashtra cinema regulation act prohibits hawking inside the theatres.” The high court has given the state government four weeks for clearing its stand on introducing necessary regulations.
Following the MNS agitation and Maharashtra government’s announcement, the Telangana government had issued a circular to only sell packaged food items inside the multiplex which was questioned by the Hyderabad High Court (HHC). Later a PIL was filed to allow outside food and also to control the exorbitant rates of packaged and non-packaged food items. The division bench of the HHC dismissed the petition asking the petitioner is it necessary to eat when the film is on.
Reacting to the judgment, Pratap said it is very unfortunate that the court has dismissed it. “Anyone can feel hungry in the theatre. If we are allowed to have the junk food at the movie hall, why not home cooked nutritious food?” He also added that the judgment is based on logic and not on sound reasoning of law.
How valid is the demand for regulation of food prices?
Some say if the outside food is not allowed in movie halls, at least the prices of the packaged food should be made affordable.
Advocate Vijayalakshmi Khopde, a practicing lawyer at the Bombay High Court says, “The demand is totally valid. We have a system called Maximum Retail Price (MRP) and Minimum Selling Price (MSP). The price of any item has to be in the range of MSP which is decided by the government and MRP which is decided by the producer. This freedom of deciding on MRP has led to high prices of food. If you look at the food items’ prices, sometimes the bill crosses even the movie ticket price. A snack which is available for Rs 20 or Rs 40 outside is being sold at Rs 80 to Rs 100 inside a multiplex. This is completely unacceptable.”
In states like Tamil Nadu where the government has decided the ticket prices, it is a matter of bringing in another law. But from the legal perspective, it will require an amendment to the law which may be challenged in the court under Article 19- Right to free trade. It is only logical on the states’ part that it allows people to bring in their own food.
“This will not only be helpful to the public but also increase competition and help reduce the prices automatically. The court will decide the case on the merit and right to life will prevail over right to business,” said Pratap.