Entertained at any cost
Our chief entertainment correspondent just sent me a message saying 3 idiots has grossed Rs.175 crores ! A movie with an investment of Rs 50 crores makes this amount in just two weeks? Fantastic, I am very happy for Amir, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who I think have worked very hard over several years and continue to take their work very seriously. Now the new controversy generated by Chetan Bhagat will help them to even further attract audience attention to their latest 'product'. But suddenly one question ( which a lot of people may find totally unrelated but I still want to raise it) that hits me is, why does urban India that spends Rs 175 crores on one film in two weeks at an average of Rs 300 per ticket, complaining so much about inflation and specially high prices of food grains? If we are so happy paying Rs 300 for a single movie-ticket, why complain so much about paying Rs 40 for a kilo of sugar ?
I must make it clear that I am a firm believer in free market and open economy and I don't want to blame the entertainment industry for some of the questions that I am going to raise or the sad situation that I am going to portray in this piece. Yet I just hope to point out to the readers some of the idiosyncrasies of today's consumer-centric and market-driven economy in urban India that nobody seems to be talking about.
Fifteen years ago when I used to ride a motorbike and watch over ten movies a month, a litre of petrol for my bike used to cost Rs 17 and the movie ticket was Rs 20. Today I drive a car and watch maybe two movies a month in multiplexes: the fuel cost has gone up about three times to about Rs 50 a litre and the movie ticket is Rs 250-Rs 300, that's over twelve times! And nobody seems to be complaining !
The middle and higher middle class of India which is now over Rs 25 crore seems to be spending on entertainment like never before...which is great, I have no problem, my only issue is the same middle class wants to put pressure on the government thru media and opposition political parties to control the prices of food products... why?. Do we have our priorities right ? A friend of mine who works in rural areas on farmers issues asks "why do Mumbai consumers complain so much when the price of milk goes up from Rs26 to Rs28 rupees a liter, if they don't mind paying Rs 12 for a bottle of water", I have no answer.. If packaged water gets sold in Mumbai for Rs 12, shouldn't milk be at least three times that price ?
Another friend of mine told me an interesting story. A corporate czar based in Mumbai a couple of years ago it seems gave a presentation to his 'senior management team' about future investments. He kept showing a 'priority chart' on his presentation screen, where various sectors were shown from top priority to bottom priority. At the top of the chart was entertainment and media ( not real estate! ) and at the bottom was agriculture! If that was (and maybe still is) the corporate mindset in urban India, one can imagine what the future of food production will be... Are we going to replace food with movies in the future ?
Today agriculture continues to be the most ignored and underestimated sector in this country.. We seem to be taking food security for granted..But that may change very fast. we may see a lot of more farmers quitting farming and moving to jobs in cities..We may see a lot of agricultural land being converted to SEZs or industrial / residential land and that will lead to a major drop in food production.. The government at central level has now started reacting to this trend and doing a few things to ensure that the farmer gets a better price and agriculture can become a sustainable profession but that may be too little coming too late. The science of agro-economy in India is too complex and I am neither an expert nor do I have the space and time to right now to go into all the analysis and answers to many problems the agro sector faces but one of the big problems experts tell me is the reluctance of the consumers to accept and pay a realistic price for agro produce..
Whenever there is price rise, it becomes a political issue and government steps in to ensure prices don't go up beyond a point ( and the farmer remains poor) Obviously the solutions are not easy and the chain of traders and middlemen make things even more complicated. But some mindset change is surely needed to ensure we either set our priorities right to solve the problem to atleast some extent or pay a heavy price in the future. The last thing we want to see is farmers quitting agriculture to become junior artistes in Bollywood!