Did you know you lose roughly five bucks each time you accidentally drop a few popcorn bits from a regular ₹300 pack during a movie?

But there’s some hope–at least for people in Mumbai. Don’t be surprised if you find people munching on home-made paranthas or road-side chaat sitting next to you in a theatre after Maharashtra food and civil supplies minister Ravindra Chavan allowed movie-goers to carry outside food and beverages (F&B) into multiplexes from August 1.

“There is no ban on patrons carrying outside food to multiplexes, but if the authorities prohibit it, they could face action,” he said in the state legislative council.

The move is a big blow to multiplex brands in India like PVR and INOX who have nearly a quarter of their total screens in Mumbai: Their stocks suffered a hit of 13% and 5.4% respectively on the BSE after the announcement to allow outside food.

The Maharashtra government’s decision came after workers of Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) thrashed a theatre manager in Pune in June during a protest against exorbitant prices of popcorn and other beverages in cinema halls.

In past hearings, the Bombay High Court has observed that food prices in multiplexes were high. “We understand if the state can't permit the public to carry food from home. But, then why can't it step in and regulate the prices of food sold inside the cinema theatres," the bench had said.

The Bombay High Court’s decision is due on Wednesday.

The Multiplex Association of India (MAI) said it had not received any order from the government of Maharashtra or any other regulatory authority. “Since the matter is currently sub-judice, and since we have no other formal communication from any regulatory authority, we would not like to comment any further on the matter,” said Deepak Asher, president, MAI.

Multiplex industry officials say selling of food articles is an essential part of their business model. F&B is the second largest contributor to their revenue streams after box office collections. In FY18, F&B accounted for 23% of INOX’s total income and 27% of PVR’s total income, according to their annual reports.

“Having entered the cinema theatre, there is no compulsion on the patron to buy any food articles or water. If patrons are allowed to bring in outside food and beverages, the entire viability of the business model will be brought into question, causing shutting down of cinema theatres across the country,” said a source requesting anonymity.

According to the rating agency Crisil, the multiplex industry could take a hit of almost ₹100 crore in profits if half of the viewers get their own food and beverages. It also said that multiplexes may have to increase ticket prices by ₹70 per ticket.

Historically, popcorn has always been an integral part of the film-viewing experience. “Find a good place to sell popcorn and then build a movie theatre around it”–this was the word around the American movie industry during the Great Depression.

The snack was once considered cheap and hence deliberately kept out of movie theatres. But the advent of sound in cinema (with the 1927 film ‘the Jazz Singer’) changed everything for popcorn. “The movie theater industry opened itself up to a much wider clientele, since literacy was no longer required to attend films (the titles used in early silent films restricted their audience),”Andrew Smith, the author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn, told Smithsonian magazine.

And as masses flocked into the theaters, street popcorn vendors saw it as an opportunity to make larger profits. “At 5 to 10 cents a bag, popcorn was a luxury that most people were able to afford. Owners couldn’t ignore the financial appeal of selling the snack. So they leased ‘lobby privileges’ to vendors, allowing them to sell their popcorn in the lobby of their theater for a daily fee,” he says.

Since it became a source of income for farmers, the popcorn is also said to have saved the movie industry from going down during the great depression in many accounts.

For almost 90 years from then, a good movie is incomplete without a bucket full of popcorn in hand. But what good is that experience if the humble snack is burning a hole in the pocket? Perhaps, multiplexes will soon have an answer.

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