Andhra Pradesh on Thursday allowed 83 cinemas that were sealed for violating rules to reopen.
The Minister for Information and Public Relations and Cinematography, Perni Venkataramaiah, however, asked cinema owners to equip their premises with required facilities and safety features within a month.
Telugu actor, director and producer R Narayana Murthy and a group of cinema owners met the minister at Machilipatnam to represent their case.
Venkataramaiah later told reporters that he had asked owners who had met him in September to get all necessary licences to run their businesses.
“But they did not heed my advice. The surprise visits by the officials revealed that they have been running the theatres in violation of the rule book. They have not renewed their licences. They neither have B-forms nor the NOC issued by the Fire Department,” the minister said. “Tomorrow, if some untoward incident happens, the government will be the target to be blamed.”
In recent months cinema owners in the state have been at loggerheads with the government over its decision to fix ticket prices.
Several cinemas across Andhra have closed, saying the government action has made the business unviable.
In April, the government had issued an order fixing the rates for multiplexes, AC and non-AC premises in various local councils. The owners say that with these prices, it is not profitable for them to run the cinemas, especially after suffering huge losses during the lockdown.
Venkataramaih said the government wanted to make tickets affordable and ensure that cinemas do not overcharge people. He said ticket prices soar when big movies are released.
The April 8 government order (GO) fixed slabs for tickets in cinemas in municipal corporation, municipality, nagar panchayat and gram panchayat areas.
At multiplexes in municipal corporation areas, the minimum ticket price is ₹75 and maximum ₹250. In AC and non-AC cinemas the prices range from ₹20 to ₹100.
In gram panchayat areas, economy class prices have been fixed at ₹5 in non-AC premises. The GO also fixed prices at concession stands. Free drinking water and clean restrooms must be provided, the GO said, and asked owners to make provisions for online ticketing. The government wants to launch a portal for the online ticketing system.
Owners of around 950 cinemas expressed displeasure over the decision. The AP Cine Exhibitors Association said the government should not fix ticket prices. The group also said it was unfair to fix prices according to areas and class of cinemas. Owners of AC and non-AC establishments said to match facilities offered by multiplexes, they too have modified their premises and are offering a variety of services, so they should be allowed to fix their own prices.
Several owners filed petitions and the AP High Court directed the government to set up a committee comprising all stakeholders to decide on the price of tickets. However, the government did not comply, and the HC suspended the GO on December 14.
The government then accused owners of malpractices and operating without renewing licences, and raided and sealed cinemas in several districts.
Several top actors, directors and film industry leaders condemned the move and requested the government to reconsider the GO.
On Tuesday (December 28), the government set up a committee comprising all stakeholders to decide on the prices. Film industry stalwarts also sought an appointment with Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy to discuss the issue.
On Thursday (December 30), the government allowed 83 cinemas to reopen.