The well-known filmmaker and cinematographer opines that the excruciatingly high prices of popcorn and soft drinks at multiplexes are potentially killing cinema
The bifurcation of the theatrical experience into 'pre' and 'post' lockdown has brought forth a pertinent argument. Many pundits of the game believed that the coronavirus pandemic caused a radical change in how cinema is consumed, with the advent of the OTT being one of the most prominent facets of this event. The belief that cinema halls and big screens would no longer function the way they did previously and that the concept of 'from the comfort of home' is guiding the whole narrative in a new direction.
And yet, as time passed and certain insecurities were shed, the audiences did return to the theatres and perhaps with more gusto than before. Films like Pushpa: The Rise, RRR, KGF 2, Vikram, Pathaan, Ponniyin Selvan 1 & 2, etc. accentuated this change that we speak of and also proved that there is a categorical shift in the culture of movie watching now. Big-ticket, expensive films are likely to now get all the attention, one gathers, and if the audience collectively decides through a vague, illegible process that a specific film does not deserve a visit to the cinema hall, that film's fate is almost sealed at that point.
There have been exceptions, no doubt, with films like The Kashmir Files, Kantara, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Thiruchitrambalam, Love Today, and a few others disrupting the so-called trend but the scepticism that the digital platforms are the Goliath to the David that is the cinema hall is yet to go away.
That said, the conundrum that Kannada cinema currently faces is bizarrely peculiar. As a collective that saw off 2022 on an incredible high with every discerning voice around claiming that the Kannada Film Industry has finally 'arrived', 2023 is practically yet to take off for Sandalwood. As someone who reviews films week after week, I am privy to the fact that the audience turnout is alarmingly low and all those films that were meant to work at the box office, have failed to deliver despite the positive word-of-mouth. The more bankable films like Kranti and Kabzaa, too, failed because of the underwhelming reviews whereas the more distinguished kind such as Manso Re's 19.20.21 and Vijay N's Gurudev Hoysala have found scanty responses. To make things worse, some of the films from the latter category are yet to find OTT buyers.
In this vein, well-known Telugu director and cinematographer Teja shares an interesting perspective. "As someone who makes it a point to visit a theatre every weekend, the most common complaint I receive from fellow patrons is that the prices of popcorn and soft drinks are excruciatingly high. And the common man just cannot fathom those prices. And I believe that multiplexes are killing the theatrical experience - not the OTT platforms or the television. See, enjoying popcorn or snacks while watching a film is an integral part of the movie-watching experience and when those things become expensive, people will stop visiting multiplexes. I would recommend everyone to visit single screens and not multiplexes to beat this," says Teja, known for making films like Jayam, Nijam and Nene Raju Nene Mantri.
While Teja's synopsis of the whole issue does seem valid, one does wonder if it all comes down to just that. Granted that the 'non-event' films do not stimulate or lure the audiences as much as the RRRs and KGFs do but to claim that it all comes down to the price of popcorn is to draw an unnecessary binary. What one must also take into account is the aspect of faith among the audience and in the case of Kannada cinema, one finds it to be lacking considerably. There is no sense of avidness among the moviegoers anymore, nor there is a curiosity or the patience to give a lesser-known filmmaker/entity a chance. Perhaps this all stems from the fact that the recent big-ticket films have failed miserably and that the reliable superstars have been sub-par at best. If that so, maybe it is time for the entire industry to pull up its socks and create a more refined culture that does not singularly rely on marquee names?