Extortion is the new marketing ploy

The way these multiplex managements work is curious. On one side, they devise ways to attract the audience by various means such as advertising added attractions

The way these multiplex managements work is curious. On one side, they devise ways to attract the audience by various means such as advertising added attractions in a new property the way PVR did for Jio Maison in Bandra, Mumbai, which comes with a bar and lounge.

The claim was misleading because the property happens to have just a lounge and bar along with multiple screens. It is not a package deal that includes a drink with cinema tickets!

When they promote their properties, these managements also displease their patrons by doubling admission rates at the last minute in the way it was mentioned in this column last week.

That happened at PVR Juhu, Mumbai. Later, it was reported that a patron faced the same last-minute admission rate rise at Metro, another Mumbai cinema.

In this case, the patron had pre-booked the tickets for himself and his family. To his dismay, he got an intimation form BookMyShow from where he had booked the tickets online stating that due to the high demand (which is usually a lie) the cinema house has enhanced the admission rates!

In this particular case, there is ‘No Refund’, so you either pay up the extra sum demanded or forfeit the amount you already paid while booking and go back home with your disappointed family.

It is a Hobson’s choice. You may even want to call it extortion and loot in broad daylight!

When a ticket is sold once, there is no way one can be forced to pay more. Can you imagine an airline doing it? If you book an airline ticket for, say, Rs 4,500 a month in advance, but then the price may have surged to Rs 12,000 on the day you travel, but the airline is committed to the price that was effective on the day you bought your tickets.

It is a sad thing to happen at one of Mumbai’s most prestigious movie theatre! This was the only cinema that charged 52 per cent of its house full capacity as weekly rental from the distributor and, till Minerva came up, it boasted of the biggest seating capacity.

Metro, when owned by the MGM Studios, never screened a movie in any local language till the 1970s. Only a couple of exceptions were made and even the Hollywood movies it screened had to be approved by the property’s general manager, Mr Edward (Eddie) Alva.

Later, the cinema changed hands (it was bought by a Gupta family) and thereafter it was converted into a multi-screen property. It has not been the same since then.

Are the cinemas charging for high demand or to make up for the people who did not turn up in the numbers they expected? Is a cinema a cab aggregator company or is it an airline, where there is a price surge according to demand?

This is a clear case of cheating the moviegoer. And these multiplex managers get away with petty tricks because we are known for taking things lying down. Nobody complains and even when one wants to complain, one doesn’t know where to go. So, we adopt the ‘Chhaddo ji, picture to dekhli na’ attitude.

There is also this rare case of moviegoers who bought tickets at the Miraj Bioscope in Jodhpur at the rate of Rs 140 each only to realise that the cost included a little carton of popcorn!

They learnt that the ticket price was actually just Rs 90 and the remaining Rs 50 was for the popcorn! What if you did not want popcorn, or do not like it?Especially because in most instances the popcorn that you get at a multiplex is what I describe as spongy or like rubber. It tires your jaws to chew it.

(As an aside, may I add that my local popcorn cart-wala used to sell a plastic bag of freshly made popcorn for Rs 2. I think he learnt what people paid in cinemas and now charges Rs 10 for the same bag of popcorn).

This was a new ploy by the cinema management to fleece patrons. In cities such as Mumbai, people are known to be the ‘Let Go’ types. In the Jodhpur case, though, there were four ticket buyers who refused to be conned.

They decided to approach the district consumer court stating that it was unfair to be forced to pay for popcorn along with the admission rate, adding that the quantity of the popcorn would not merit Rs 5, though Rs 50 was charged.

The consumer forum’s judgment is an eye-opener: Miraj Bioscope Cinema, Jodhpur, and Miraj Entertainment were asked to pay a penalty of Rs 75,000 for forcing four patrons to buy popcorn along with tickets.

Further, the District Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission ordered the two defendants to pay within two months Rs 20,000/ by way of compensation to the four complainants, Rs 5,000 towards the complaint fee and Rs 200, which was the price of the four packets of popcorn forcibly sold to them.

The defendants were also asked to deposit Rs 50,000 in the Consumer Welfare Fund for profiteering by forcibly selling popcorn to patrons. The district collector was asked to investigate the matter further.

This is not the first time Miraj Bioscope has faced action. Earlier, in February this year, the Hyderabad property of Miraj was made to pay a fine of Rs 12.8 lakh for charging an extra Rs 11.74 from its patrons.

Three years ago, two patrons approached the National Anti-Profiteering Authority (NAA) with a complaint against the Miraj-managed Shalini Shivani cinemas in Hyderabad, alleging that they had increased their base price when the GST on cinema admission rates was reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent. Instead of passing off the reduced tax benefit to the patrons, the cinemas actually consumed the benefit for profiteering.

This reminds me of the old days. When a cinema was located in a lane, the black marketers of cinema tickets took position at the mouth of the lane and made patrons buy tickets in black.

The buyers, assuming that the cinema was full, bought the tickets without going a little farther to check the position and realising that they were conned. The tickets were still available at the booking windows at normal rates.

In those days, the admission rates were not doubled by the time you checked online and reached the booking window, as in the case of the two examples mentioned here — that of PVR and Metro in Mumbai. The problem is, nobody thinks of approaching any redressal forum the way that patrons in Jodhpur and Hyderabad did.

In the southern states, there is a government-imposed ceiling on admission rates. Cinemas can’t raise rates arbitrarily. This should be followed all over the country to stop the exploitation of the moviegoer.

Cheat at whim, be it your patron or be it the government by stealing GST? Don’t, it backfires.

–By Vinod Mirani

Agency News Desk
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