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Popcorn battles and why I’m ready to give up first day, first show

The bottom line is that overpriced popcorn subsidizes your multiplex

The bottom line is that overpriced popcorn subsidizes your multiplex. Photo: iStock
The bottom line is that overpriced popcorn subsidizes your multiplex. Photo: iStock

I was at the late morning show of Black Friday, Anurag Kashyap’s cinematic interpretation of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, in my favourite art deco Mumbai multiplex with my father. It was just after interval and I was focusing on the tale of yeda (crazy) Yakub Memon and how he transported an RDX shipment into the city. Suddenly, across the aisle, the phone rang. “Haan bol," said the solitary Mumbaikar, who proceeded to give his stockbroker complicated and loud instructions to buy some favourably-priced shares. “Shhhhh," I hissed long and hard. No impact. I handed the popcorn to my dad, got up, walked over to the man in the nearly empty theatre, stood over him menacingly and said: “You’re disturbing me." My father ducked in his seat.

Another time in Bengaluru, during Super 8, a couple bought along two children who started playing tag on the stage below the screen, effectively annihilating the perfect partnership of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. The parents were most offended when I yelled at them to control their children. In Delhi, a bratty toddler’s head got stuck between two seats. At least that provided more entertainment than Fashion, Madhur Bhandarkar’s wet dream version of what happens in that industry.

Going to a movie hall in India is hell. As if it were not bad enough, we allow people to bring their wailing infants, bratty children and overactive cellphones into our cinema theatres, we now want them to carry the contents of their fridges and larders too? Theatre employees who once stalked the back rows with flashlights to ensure all couples were concentrating only on the film, have now reinvented themselves as servers who will bring a tasteless burger and an American-sized Coke to your seat.

Just when I was cheering the disappearance of the national anthem from my neighbourhood multiplex (INOX and PVR play it even after the Supreme Court reversed an earlier order that made it compulsory), Maharashtra is debating whether or not to allow moviegoers to carry their food along to the movies. Petitioner Jainendra Baxi wants multiplexes to allow patrons to carry their own food and beverages instead of being restricted to the overpriced items on a theatre chain’s menu. Baxi believes this food should be consumed in “designated areas" and not in the cinema while watching the film.

Imagine the chaos. I’m thinking Delhi’s Lodhi Garden on Sundays. Folding chairs, picnic table, gas cylinders, the works. And the aftermath of the feast. Ever noticed how the floor of your theatre is littered with popcorn at the end of every show? How nobody bothers to pick up their empty containers and throw them in the dustbin provided at every exit? Multiply this mess by 100. And add plastic (ironically banned in Maharashtra), which most multiplexes don’t use to serve snacks.

Where are these designated areas where Baxi envisages people will eat their own snacks? On weekends it can be claustrophobic just waiting for the doors to open. Where are people going to snack? Will they carry their own picnic mats too? Will security personnel at the doors open every tiffin? What if someone sneaks in a tiffin bomb? Will they sniff my Coke to ensure I didn’t add any Old Monk? Will fish be allowed? And dry fish, that stinky Maharashtrian speciality? In the age of bovine-related mob lynchings, what if someone thinks the kheema cutlets you took to the movie are beef?

Besides, urban India clearly has the money to buy food at the movies. People don’t just order one popcorn, they order a tray of food. PVR’s Director’s Cut and INOX’s INSIGNIA theatres with pillows, blankets, couples’ recliners, and menus created by celebrity chefs cater to the folks who don’t think twice about the price of popcorn.

I know some of you wish you could go back to the era of single screens when the popcorn was cheap, you could dance in the aisle with Madhuri Dixit, blow loud whistles, enjoy the full lower stalls experience. Now we get our community feeling fix when we join the world in live tweeting a global sporting event. G.O.A.L!

When the nostalgia hits me, I buy balcony seats at Bengaluru’s Rex Theatre, which was built during World War II. For a while Vikalp Bengaluru, a film group, screened award-winning documentaries at my neighbourhood single-screen Everest Talkies. But my single-screen memories from 1980s and 1990s Mumbai also include men trying to paw me while feeling themselves, men spitting paan in the aisles during Bade Miyan Chote Miya, and seriously stinky loos.

In recent years, I’ve watched fewer films first day, first show. No way was I going to battle the children and the cellphones, the stale popcorn and the pushy servers to watch Padmaavat, Raazi, 102 Not Out, Tiger Zinda Hai, Hichki, Pari, Missing and Hindi Medium—they’ve been bookmarked for a lazy, desperate afternoon with healthy popcorn from my kitchen, courtesy my Amazon Prime subscription.

But the bottom line is that overpriced popcorn subsidizes your multiplex. When I rushed to see an English film one recent morning, the lady at the ticket counter said the show had been cancelled because nobody showed up.

In this cut-throat business, food and beverage sales make up around a quarter of PVR/INOX’s revenues nationally and in the state of Maharashtra, and if these chains lose money from food sales, they are likely to hike ticket prices. And then we would pay the same for an even worse experience.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani

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