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Popcorn Prices Lead To Supreme Court Case In India


Lots of people try and sneak candy and snacks into the movie theater, right? After all, concession stand prices can be insane. Others just complain about the overpriced popcorn and move on. But in India, the issue has reached the country's highest court in the land, As NPR's Mumbai producer Sushmita Pathak reports.

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: At a posh multiplex in Mumbai, Mayank Rai and Hemrika Gadgil are on their first movie date. They're munching on snacks from the concession stand as they wait to enter the movie theater.

What are you eating?


MAYANK RAI: Cheese...

GADGIL: ...Popcorn.

PATHAK: And do you like it?


RAI: Yeah.

PATHAK: What do you think about the prices?

GADGIL: Way too high.

RAI: Way too high.

PATHAK: A tub of salted popcorn can sometimes cost you as much as a movie ticket. If you want soda to wash it down, it can be double. On top of that, you're not allowed to carry any snacks of your own. That's led to protests outside movie theaters in India. Some even turned violent last year.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Excuse me, sir. Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hey, I said excuse me.

PATHAK: Protesters carried placards about overpriced popcorn and beat up a theater employee. Now there's a legal challenge to the ban on outside food in theaters. The petition is waiting to be heard by India's Supreme Court, along with lawsuits over the crackdown in Kashmir and extrajudicial killings by police. Mumbai-based filmmaker Jainendra Baxi is the man behind it.

So you're like the popcorn hero now.

JAINENDRA BAXI: Ha. Because of - yeah, you rightly said popcorn hero. Yeah.

PATHAK: About two years ago, Baxi was at a movie theater in Mumbai when he noticed a commotion. Ushers had stopped an elderly couple, he says. They looked distressed and were pleading with the multiplex manager - all for bringing in a pack of cookies from home.

BAXI: I felt that - I felt empathized. And I felt that it was not right.

PATHAK: In the end, ushers tossed the cookies into a trashcan.

ADITYA PRATAP: Is it not inhuman? Is it not absurd?

PATHAK: Baxi's lawyer Aditya Pratap says movie theaters are fleecing people of their money and of their rights.

PRATAP: The actions of the multiplex cinema hall owners brazenly violates the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

PATHAK: The right to life guarantees the right to food. And theaters are going against it, he says. If judges buy Pratap's argument and rule in his favor, it could be disastrous for multiplexes. A quarter of their revenue comes from concession stands. But food and beverage sales have been growing. People might feel the price of popcorn is unfair. But it's not stopping them from buying it. And popcorn is just the beginning.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Epitome of luxury. The best movie-watching experience.

PATHAK: An ad for a luxury theater in Mumbai boasts menus curated by celebrity chefs. The concession stands have chandeliers.

SOUMYA GUPTA: And they have fully reclining seats that turn into beds. And it sells.

PATHAK: Soumya Gupta is a journalist with Indian newspaper Economic Times and has covered the multiplex business. She says posh theaters here don't cater to the masses. They cater to the wealthy. They're not going to bring snacks from home.

GUPTA: They pay more. They spend more. They want an experience. If I'm out for a film, and I paid a lot of money for a good ticket, I'm going to want food that matches that experience.

PATHAK: Back at the multiplex, there are long lines for food. The couple on their first date say they don't really mind expensive popcorn.

Did you hesitate before buying it?

RAI: No.

GADGIL: No, we don't.

RAI: No.

PATHAK: Why is that?

GADGIL: It's just a thing. You go to the movie theater. And you tend to buy popcorn. It's just a thing.

PATHAK: It's part of the experience.


RAI: Exactly.

PATHAK: They say the price doesn't bother them. But who knows if they really mean it? They are on their first date, after all. Maybe they just didn't want to look cheap in front of each other. For NPR News, I'm Sushmita Pathak in Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.