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When movie booking meant trusting word of mouth, not critics

A family shortlisted a film by what the neighbours, colleagues at office and friends said about a film. Word of mouth, you see, was what matte

When movie booking meant trusting word of mouth, not critics

New Delhi: Suppose I stay close to a cinema and plan to take the family out for a movie over the weekend, what do I do? The obvious thing for me to do is to walk to the theatre to book the tickets or I can do so on my way home from work.

Sounds easy and simple. Also logical. That is how it worked all along. Not anymore. It is not so simple now. Booking cinema tickets for the family outing in advance brings back nostalgia.

The entire family had to watch a movie. And, no, tickets for the family were not booked based on what critics said. Not many families used to subscribed to a newspaper in those days, let alone follow film reviews!

A family shortlisted a film by what the neighbours, colleagues at office and friends said about a film. Word of mouth, you see, was what mattered!

That is what a filmmaker hoped for when his film did not get the opening response as per expectations. He hoped for a good word of mouth to spread from the early viewers, the compulsive moviegoers who took in a film's first day first show and what they said, counted.

Word of mouth worked most often when it came to family social films or unconventional romance-based films.

There are numerous examples of such films which failed to attract the audience initially, but went on to celebrate jubilees with full houses. Films from certain banners that made neat and clean family socials, in fact, suffered from this lack of initial show of interest by the moviegoer.

One such banner was Prasad Productions, Madras (Chennai now), owned by L.V. Prasad. Films from his banner such as 'Milan', 'Jeene Ki Raah' and 'Ek Duuje Ke Liye' were either slow starters or nonstarters initially. Same was the case of some of the Rajshri Productions movies.

These films picked up momentum after a couple of weeks as word of mouth spread. A film for which the theatre management had issued a notice to the distributor to discontinue at the end of the week. Often that was not needed and the film continued for months.

Quite a few cinemas did not offer this facility of advance booking. Lotus at Worli in Mumbai was one such. The cinema was a pilgrimage place for the college crowd to catch a new movie at the first day first show. Critics be damned. If these first day first show crowds loved a film, it was through. People believed in their opinions.

The other such cinema was Alankar at Ahmedabad, located opposite the Kalupur railway station. The owner was a lady named Ramona Zaveri and you had to see how she controlled the crowds equipped with a lathi in her hand and the choicest foul words a man would refrain from using. No advance booking here but it drew full houses.

A cinema close to a railway station always attracted a huge number of the floating population; the ones who wanted to catch a film before boarding a train to the nearby town of their origin. All cities have such cinemas, such as Sheila in Delhi, situated at a walking distance from the railway station.

When the head of a family decided to take his family out to a film, it was mandatory to book tickets in advance. This assured preferred sets and prevented disappointments

So, what is the issue? The issue is that, booking tickets in advance now is not a cakewalk as it used to be!

The family decides on a film outing and the man of the house is tasked with buying the tickets. He happily approaches the booking windows which the multiplexes have proudly labelled as Box Office!

You are not the box office, all you offer is a ticket-booking window. Box Office is what a film's all-India figures reflect. The marketing whizkids with these cinemas, though, love to play a little con here and there.

So, excited to book tickets for your family for the weekend, you approach this area marked Box Office. Happy to notice that all four windows are open and there is nobody else booking tickets ahead of you. So far, so good.

The bookings are all computerised and your booking should be done in a jiffy! You expect tickets to be put across the counter even as you provide cash. The catch here is, all four booking windows may be open, but there's just one clerk in attendance!

It is anything but easy and swift. These cinemas want to make movie going an experience for you. And not a memorable experience at that!

So the man spreads the seating plan, you choose your seats, and he keeps banging on his keyboard all the while. The booking experience is just like the jail movies you see from Hollywood. You speak into a mic and the clerk replies.

What is this mic business? I don't think cinemas in any other country talk to a patron through a microphone! Unfortunately, his system is slow, it always is. So, finally, you get your desired bookings. Takes all of 25 minutes, that is all! And you are relieved you have finally booked the tickets!

So what is the alternative? The alternative is to book online. Say, on this portal called BookMyShow. If the multiplex makes it tough for you to book your tickets and the online portal makes it simpler, there is a price to pay for it.

So, on a Rs 300 ticket, you end up paying Rs 43.50 as convenience fee, which includes a GST of 18 per cent. That is for making it convenient for you to book your tickets as against the cinema management making it inconvenient. For four tickets, you end up paying Rs 1,374 instead of 1,200.

What happens to this Rs 37 you pay per ticket? The theatre and the online portal split the amount equally. On top of that, the cinema saves on manpower remuneration by employing one person where four are needed.

After all this, with the bulk of the revenue coming from parking, food court, admissions and auxiliary sources such as the booking portal's 'convenience fee', and most of all, advertisements played prior to each show, why do cinemas fail to deliver profits? Why are the proceeds of none of these revenue sources shared with the filmmaker?

Stranger still, how come the major ticket booking portal, BookMyShow, was sacking staff on a regular basis? The portal sacked 270 in May 2020 and 200 more in June 2021. That can be attributed to Covid-19 but there have been no reports of reinstatements thereafter.

Author: Vinod Mirani

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