Mumbai, Oct. 20: Film lovers in Maharashtra were handed a Diwali present today as theatres across the state called off their strike on the fourth day of the agitation.
The government made some last-minute concessions after deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal stepped in following the chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s failure to break the deadlock.
“The entertainment tax has been reduced by 10 per cent and it is good enough for now,’’ film producer Kiran Shantaram of the Theatre Owners’ Association said. “The strike stands cancelled.’’
Among the films that will benefit from the cancellation are the Govinda-starrer Raja Bhaiya, Pinjar, based on Amrita Pritam’s novel, Mukesh Bhatt’s Inteha, which is the launch vehicle for three actors, and Sssshhh, the launch pad of Kajol’s sister Tanisha.
The strike was primarily against entertainment taxes of up to 55 per cent.
The agitation was threatening to stretch beyond Diwali as talks between the govern-ment and various theatre owners’ associations had failed repeatedly.
As many as 1,042 single-screen theatres across the state had shut on October 17, backed by the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association of India, the Theatre Owners’ Association, the Marathwada Theatres Association, the Central Circuit Cinema Association and the Poona Exhibitors’ Association.
Theatre owners were for long appealing for a reduction in the “crippling” entertainment tax to 30 per cent.
They were also demanding a change in the exit policy and permission to use theatre plots for other purposes if the cinema was not doing well.
They also wanted electricity supplied at the cheaper industrial rate and permission to collect Rs 5 as service charge per ticket for air-conditioned cinemas.
After a marathon meeting today, Bhujbal said service charge on tickets have been raised “accordingly”.
He threw in another sop by promising a one-man commission to consider the other major demands.
Theatre owners said they were having a tough time fighting off competition from VCD and private cable operators offering the latest fare on television.
They claimed the taxes had led to the closure of nearly 200 cinemas across the state in the last three years. Almost 50 closed down in Mumbai alone during this time, they said.
“It is not fair to us. The multiplexes are doing roaring business because they are on a five-year tax holiday. Sab bojh hamare upar hai (All the burden is on us),’’ a Cinematograph association member said.
Theatre Owners’ president R.V. Vidhani said these cuts had been promised three years ago, but nothing had happened.
“Of course, we are happy now. While many will start showing films in their cinemas from today, the rest will follow tomorrow.’’
The happiest were film lovers. “Yehi to hai time masti ka. Aur yeh dono milke sab khel kharab karne wale thei. Lekin ab theek hai (Diwali is the time for fun. These two — the government and the theatre owners — nearly spoilt things. Everything is fine now),” taxi driver Baldev Jadhav said.