Shah Rrukh Khan has a lot to answer for.
I had a thousand plans for the bygone weekend. I am the uncrowned queen of self-sabotage. I go out of my way to make others happy and myself unhappy. I spend insane amounts of money on a whim but become a penny-pincher when it comes to fairly basic stuff. Like, buying popcorn at the movies.
As an intelligent reader can probably guess, I did not go to the movies during my weekend off. To mark my utterly futile protest against the Supreme Court order allowing cinema owners to stop patrons from bringing food and beverages into their premises. As a result, I was miserable during the weekend.
I must, at this point admit, that I have never been able to resist the call of caramel popcorn; my bill for popcorn has always trumped the price of the priciest movie ticket in a Delhi-NCR multiplex.
But what does that have to do with Shah Rukh Khan, you ask?
The Curious Case of Cash-Crushing Popcorn
Firstly, let’s recall why popcorn (or nachos, if you like it noisier, spicier) is so expensive at multiplexes.
It has been established that movie theatres depend on the sale of utterly unhealthy yet addictive food and drink items to keep their businesses viable.
Prof Richard 'Popcorn’ McKenzie from University of California-Irvine has calculated that the price tag on popcorn buckets represents a markup of roughly 1,300 per cent on the actual cost of production.
As per Stanford GSB and the University of California, Santa Cruz research, food and beverage revenues make for only about 20 per cent of gross revenues but they account for almost 40 per cent of profits for theatres in the US.
Secondly, despite being the world’s largest producer of films, India is witnessing a paradoxical situation of a struggling industry. As single-screen cinema halls continue to shut down across the country, multiplexes struggle to keep afloat amidst surging operating costs and stiff competition from streaming services and OTT platforms. However, it is speculated that 2022 revenues of multiplex chains sit at an all-time high of over ₹6,000 crores, profits could be another story altogether.
But what has Shah Rukh Khan got to do with any or all of it?
Shahrukh Khan Is Not The Highest Paid Actor, But Still...
It is no secret that some Hindi cinema megastars feature in the global lists of richest actors. (Yes, Shah Rukh Khan is one of them.)
Looking at the comparative numbers at the global box office and the pay of the Indian A-list stars, it is easy to surmise that Indian movie stars are overpaid compared to their Hollywood counterparts. Swanand Kelkar, former Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, wrote in 2020 in Moneycontrol:
"Indian box office collections, including global collections of Indian movies, were less than 4 per cent of global box office collections in 2017. In other words, Salman and Akshay’s potential market is a tiny fraction of that of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and yet they earn on average 40 per cent of what Johnson does."
Add to this fat paycheck a whopping advertising budget, and we have a recipe for overpriced popcorn. Kelkar further speculated that "30 percent of the total cost of a movie is spent on P&A. For what is essentially a one-time consumption product, this number dwarfs the advertising and promotion spends of even consumer companies. India’s pre-eminent consumer company Hindustan Unilever, spends about 15 per cent of its total cost on advertising and sales promotion."
In short, the cost structures of films are bourgeoning and popcorn sales are supposed to feed this beast.
Give Us Snacks Socialism Or….?
This expensive mayhem at the snack bar seems to be unending and it has to stop. That’s the minimum that almost everyone agrees with. Including Ajay Bijli of PVR.
Again, since it is fashionable to blame Shah Rukh Khan for everything, let’s get on this bandwagon. He’s no Golden Globe guy even. We’ll spare Rajamouli’s RRR team all the criticism for a lifetime now, but Shah Rukh Khan must apologise. His stardom (along with the appended paycheck and advertising budget) is, basically, the reason I cannot afford a popcorn bucket at the movies.
And because this essay needs to read serious, here’s some gravitas:
Films need to be made without the fear of goons having the time of their lives, vandalising theatres in the name of 'hurt sentiments'. Films also need to be watched in theatres without the fear of starvation or bankruptcy.
There’s a way to get there to the satisfaction of both stakeholders. And it starts with ’S'. And in the cinema of the 70s, it used to be one of the vocations of villains.