Delhi finally recognises film industry (Column: IANS Insight: B-Town)

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If ever the film industry’s existence has been acknowledged in India and its governments, it is now. The film industry made a representation to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while he was in Mumbai, to inaugurate the film museum at the Films Division property in South Mumbai, in December. Some concessions were sought on GST on cinema tickets and the response was instant; the request was granted. The GST slabs were reduced to 12 per cent from 18 per cent on tickets costing Rs 100 and 18 per cent from 28 per cent on other ticket rates. Such a response from Delhi to a film industry request was a never before event! The media and some critics in filmmaking did try to raise a controversy out of the occasion by complaining that only men met the Prime Minister and no woman was asked to accompany. Well, as far as one got the result, it was for both to enjoy, right?

Another meeting of the film folk with the Prime Minister followed soon thereafter and men, women and what have you met him in Delhi. What stuck out in the pictures (selfies, as they are known now, showed the Prime Minister mingling freely and posing in the group as one of the crowd of representatives). This, juxtaposed with earlier pictures I had seen of film greats meeting the then prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi where she is the only one sitting on a chair and the film fraternity representatives are either sitting on floor or standing! Nehru, on the other hand, was more forthcoming; he watched films at a local Delhi cinema and, when he mingled with film stars, it was on equal terms.

All these gestures, respect and bonhomie reflect on the filmmakers’ work for, after all, they are a creative lot and any kind of acknowledgement counts. The national ambience, atmosphere and leadership does play a part in driving the content. That reflected in the kind of movies made during the Nehru era (mostly romance and family socials), the short Lal Bahadur Shastri era (mostly patriotic captained by Manoj Kumar), Indira Gandhi (anti-establishment with the protagonist giving vent to the masses’ anger on their behalf) and so on.

Otherwise, filmmaking was never considered a respectable business, forget getting industry status! It was exploited to the hilt. The cash flow was one-sided. The central as well as the state governments both taxed the film industry and film watching heavily. The governments in the states and at the centre did not encourage or subsidise filmmaking in any way.

The film industry as well as film lovers were a milch cow. The entertainment tax levied on film tickets was on the concurrent list and a state subject. Most states taxed the admission rate by as much as 150 per cent while a communist-ruled state like Bengal would fix a ceiling on the rate of admission which used to be so ridiculous that the distributor who invested in the film found it tough to recover his investment. If ever such a ceiling is needed on the admission rates, it is now with multiplexes exploiting the moviegoer with high admission rates, varying ticket rates for big star films and consuming any benefit that the government may extend without passing it on to the ticket buyer.

The introduction of GST has finally brought uniformity and parity in entertainment tax and the admission rates, to one’s surprise, even went down at single screens. The central government taxed the very process of filmmaking from the import of the negative raw stock to the release print in the form of excise duty at exorbitant rates. It is surprising that the Indian film industry not only survived but became the biggest in the world producing, probably, more films then the whole world put together! (Indian authorities never thought of setting up a plant to manufacture raw film stock.) The film industry’s representation to Delhi before every annual budget was a norm, asking for reduction in excise duty on release prints. But, as a rule, the duty only went up every year messing up the entire budget of a film.

Coming down to taxes and red-tapes heaped on to the film industry, here we go: To start with, just about everything was taxed from the launch of a film onward. But, the worst was the film exhibition business. A cinema hall needed to have as many as 22 licenses, each renewed on a yearly basis. Screening a 15-minute Films Division feature was compulsory apart from paying one per cent of the full house capacity to the FD for what was basically a ruling government propaganda! It did not matter that the film the cinema was screening was a huge flop and not collecting anything! Then, there was the municipal tax among others like fire brigade! What was worse, cinema halls could not be closed down nor the property be used for any other purpose so what if the property was no more viable! A cinema hall manager was always expected to hold a few tickets back even if the house was full lest some VIP like a police chief or a politician or such called at the last minute for seats! Complimentary passes was the term used then.

Worse, the cinema management was supposed to deposit the entertainment tax for three house full days in advance with the release of a new film on Friday! No, the governments did not care for averages. Refunds could take eons.

There were a few producers who sucked up to the regime despite humiliations. The Government needed the film stars to add glamour to the award functions and other such events though mainstream commercial cinema was not even in contention most of the time at such awards!

Film actors were also asked to raise funds whenever a calamity struck. It was through film fraternity’s rallies that a lot of cash and jewellery was collected post Indo China war. The fraternity also came to the fore when floods or an earthquake caused destruction. Otherwise, the stars may have ruled people’s hearts but did not mean much to the powers that be.

The film industry was called an industry but never enjoyed that status and it always asked for it. When the economy was liberalised, industry status was finally granted so that the makers could avail of institutional finance, insurance against damage to the production etc. But, there was no rapport between the governments and film fraternity except when they wanted actors to draw crowds during election rallies. Following industry status, a few top production houses did start becoming more professional, seeking institutional finance, buying assurance against risks and so on.

Yet, there was no interaction, no bonhomie between Delhi and the Mumbai film industry. That rapport seems to be developing now. This was evident when the film folk had two meetings with the Prime Minister Modi, back to back and returned with results instead of mere promises. Actually, a realisation that the Prime Minister was accessible became evident when a number of actors and others from the film trade started paying visits to him when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The stars wanted to learn of the prospects of investing in Gujarat and wind energy was an attraction for some besides real estate.

@ The Box Office

Emraan Hashmi films are getting rarer on the screen. Film actors have their phases. Hashmi’s latest, ‘Why Cheat India’ is a film on educational malpractices – to start with, education in India as well as the areas where the malpractices are prevalent, are not English speaking. They happen in the vernacular belts, mainly Hindi. So, the title fails. For the rest, the script, the build-up and just about everything related to the film fails to arouse interest.

‘Why Cheat India’ had a very poor opening day with collection figures of Rs 1.5 crore and managing to stay afloat over the weekend to collect about Rs 6.3 crore for three days. But, come Monday, the film sank totally and is expected to end its opening week with a mere Rs 8.3 crore.

*The other release, ‘Fraud Saiyaan’, proved to be an unmitigated disaster and so did ‘Rangeela Raja’, which had to be withdrawn from the cinema halls for lack of audience.

*The first success of the New Year is ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’. The film had an excellent first week with Rs 71.2 crore. The film has remained rock steady in its second week. The film added Rs 37.5 crore for its second weekend crossing the Rs 100 crore mark. (A great milestone for an actor who started with bit roles, graduating to secondary roles and, now playing the protagonist in ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’.)

The film has added a mammoth Rs 62 crore in its second week to take its two-week tally to Rs 133.2 crore.

(The writer is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)



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