The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that movie theatre management could forbid customers from bringing in outside food and drinks. The court added that all movie theatres had to offer free access to clean drinking water.
For the uninitiated, the controversy began when the state's multiplex/cinema hall owners were ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court not to forbid moviegoers from bringing their own food and water inside the theatre. Later, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court's decision was brought before the Supreme Court.
The initial petitioner's attorney argued that the movie ticket serves as a contract between the theatre and the viewer. He also said that in the absence of a stated restriction, outside food could not be forbidden. The bench, though, was not persuaded. “The basic premise is that cinema has a right to reserve admission. The cinema owners have a right to sell their own food and beverages”, Justice PS Narasimha stated.
CJI DY Chandrachud said, “A cinema hall is a private property. What goes in is for the owner of the property to decide subject to statutory rules. So, saying that arms are not allowed or no discrimination on the basis of caste or gender can be fine. But how can the High Court say that they can bring any food inside cinema halls? Suppose someone starts getting jalebis. The owner would not want anyone wiping their hands on the seats. It's his right. He may not want the tandoori chicken to be bought in. No one is forcing them to buy popcorn. But the owner has a right. For water, we can make a concession that free water be provided at movie theatres but at the same time you can't say that suppose they sell nimbu paani for Rs 20, you can't say I'll go buy my nimbu from outside and squeeze it in a flask and make it inside the theatre.”
The court further stated that the trade and business of operating theatres were subject to state regulation. This was an essential factor that needed to be taken into account. DY Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India, concluded by saying, “The property of the cinema hall is the private property of the owner of the hall. The owner is entitled to set terms and conditions so long as such terms and conditions are not contrary to the public interest, safety, and welfare. The owner is entitled to set terms for the sale of food and beverages. Moviegoers have the choice to not purchase the same. The High Court transgressed the limits on the exercise of its jurisdiction. Absent is the statutory rule to that effect. The imposition of such directions would affect the legitimate rights of theatre owners."
The bench further emphasized that free access to hygienic drinking water must be given to moviegoers. It said, “It is also reiterated that when an infant accompanies a parent, cinema owners shall not object.”