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Hope Of Deliverance

On Tuesday, December 18, a high-level delegation from the film fraternity met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai, in the presence of Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, functionaries from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and others.

Representing the film industry at the meeting were some of its most prolific and influential members – Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Karan Johar, Sajid Nadiadwala, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala, Bhushan Kumar, Rakesh Roshan, Vijay Singh, Ritesh Sidhwani, Prasoon Joshi and Nitesh Tiwari, among others.

A wide range of topics was discussed at the meeting, chief among them being:

  • Harnessing the immense soft power of Indian cinema as a tool for nation building and a cultural ambassador for India across the world
  • The benefits of developing  the city of Mumbai as a global hub for entertainment and the factors inhibiting the same 
  • The demand for a reduction as well as uniformity in the GST rates applicable on film ticket sales, which have been placed in the highest tax slab of 28 per cent for tickets priced above `100
  • The pressing need to address (read: revoke) the power given to Local Bodies to impose Entertainment Tax on film ticket sales over and above the GST burden 
  • The ravaging impact that piracy has on the film industry and the criticality of giving legislative and enforcement teeth to provisions aimed at curbing camcorder piracy
  • The extent to which India is under-screened when compared to other major film markets and the importance of offering tangible incentives to exhibitors in order to spur screen expansion
  • The need for a much more film-friendly administrative environment to ensure far greater ease and professionalism in the process of filming in India
  • The case for a comprehensive National Entertainment Policy à la the National Telecom Policy, National Information Technology Policy et al, to not only codify the interests of the entertainment sector as a national priority, but also give the film industry a sense of truly being recognized as a national industry

From what we hear, the Prime Minister seemed genuinely engaged and interested in what the industry had to say. He also acknowledged that in the course of his travels across the world, the subject of Indian cinema and film stars invariably and prominently cropped up during his interactions in foreign lands. Most importantly, the Prime Minister assured the delegation that their proposals would be considered thoroughly and expeditiously.

Of course, it is easy to be cynical about such assurances, especially when one looks at the extent of governmental ‘support’ that the film industry has traditionally received from the powers-that-be over the years, regardless of their political affiliations.

However, perhaps we should cast aside our skepticism for now and give this initiative the benefit of doubt and hope that it leads to some much-needed relief for the industry… not that we have much of a choice other than to hope for the best!

But credit where credit is due, it is heartening that thanks to the efforts of the Producers Guild and other worthies, the film industry-government interface is happening at the very highest levels and with a high degree of regularity – the Mumbai interaction came close on the heels of an end-October meeting in the national capital where the Prime Minister exchanged notes with a group that included Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani, Aanand L Rai, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Ritesh Sidhwani.

One would hope and assume that by personally reaching out to the film industry instead of delegating the same to other ministers or bureaucrats, the Prime Minister is signalling a personal interest in – and taking ownership of – the process to facilitate ease of business for filmmakers.

One also acknowledges that many of the themes and issues that were discussed at the meeting, as outlined earlier in this note, shall take some time and involve due processes before they can be fully addressed/implemented/resolved.

However, in our humble opinion, there certainly is one quick-fix relief that the Prime Minister and his government can offer the film industry to underline that they truly mean business.  

On December 22, the all-powerful GST Council chaired by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will meet in New Delhi to further rationalise the GST rates applicable on various goods and services. Dare we dream that that said meeting will lead to an announcement accepting our oft-repeated demand for GST rate reduction on film ticket sales?

As often griped about on this page, keeping aside the inflationary impact it has on ticket prices – and by extension, its role as a demand suppresser – we are troubled by the signalling implicit in placing ticket sales in the highest GST bracket which is supposedly reserved for luxury and ‘sin’ products. 

Should the GST Council correct this anomaly at the end of its meeting on Saturday, we will recognize and appreciate that we are finally being acknowledged as an ‘in-industry’ instead of being ostracized as a ‘sin-industry’. So with Christmas upon us, let us cross our fingers and hope that Santa is en route to delivering some delicious proof of the pudding! 

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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