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Kamal Haasan lashes out at GST, calls it 'punishment' for regional cinema

At the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce on Friday, the veteran actor-filmmaker lashed out at the new tax saying it might force him to 'leave the business'.

Our Correspondent

While Rajinikanth is still mulling the possibility of joining politics over, his long-time friend, contemporary and rival Kamal Haasan has already proved his metier by taking some strong stands.

The actor-filmmaker, known for his open views on current issues, came down heavily on the proposed goods and services tax (GST) at a conference of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC) on Friday.

Coming down strongly on the tax that will be imposed by the central government from 1 July, the star said he considers it 'a big punishment', and that it might force him to 'leave the business'.

Commenting on the 28% slab in which the film industry has been put under GST, Kamal Haasan said, "I consider this to be a big punishment and we need to be exempted from it. Moreover, we are not guilty. This is not a struggle to say that we will not pay tax. It is just a plea to express our inability to pay."

As things stand, the government proposes to levy 28% GST on cinema. Kamal Haasan said, "It is our strong view that you should not enlist this industry, from which several chief ministers in the South and top politicians have emanated, among a list of those performing sinful activities [in the new taxation structure]. This is not like gambling. I don't have to tell you how important art's strength is for culture. The world knows that it is you [media] and art that are together sculpting society."

Stating that the government could not impose the same 28% tax on both Hindi and Tamil cinema, he said, "This does not mean I am speaking against Hindi cinema. Our national anthem is in Bengali and we are happily singing it. So, we are concerned about our unity. Our plea is just that the government should make an effort to learn what is feasible for whom and then arrive at the tax to be imposed on them. So our view is that any good government that is considerate will not view our plea as a big opposition or revolt and consider it to be a fair request and address our concerns."

Haasan also said he was personally disturbed and offended by the way in which cinema has been identified with 'sinful' industries. "This is my life. I woke up into cinema. I learnt to speak in cinema. From the time I can recall, I have been in cinema. I got into acting from the time I was three-and-a-half years old. So, this is something that is angering me. You cannot weigh us like that.

"One other thing is that this is not the final announcement of the GST council. This is a council that will consider the impact these taxes will have. I believe the same point that we are making is going to be put forth by the Bengal finance minister because I was having a conversation with him. The same opinion will come from Kerala and Andhra. Karnataka has already expressed the same point of view.

"The reason why the regions are saying this is because the strength of regional cinema lies only in that region. You cannot impose the same amount of tax on regional cinema that you impose on Hindi cinema which releases [films] across the country."

Haasan made it clear that he was willing to pay tax, but that the government must make it affordable. Asked if he thought people would just leave the business if the government does not make the tax affordable, he shot back, "If I can't afford it, I will have to leave the business."

Asked the same question again, he said, "I will. Why would I work for the government? What is this, the East India Company? I work for myself and it is not about any political party or government. I am talking about my sustenance. I was promised an easy life when the Republic was formed and it is not getting any easier."

At the media interaction, L Suresh, president of the SIFCC, said the failure rate in Indian cinema is close to 90%, and that is why the proposed GST rate is very unfair for filmmakers.

A report in The Hindu newspaper quoted Suresh as saying, "Film business today is very risky, and under GST, no film will get tax exemption, which was a huge bonus for big star movies in Tamil Nadu. Now, all MGs [minimum guarantees] and even deposits will not be paid by distributors or exhibitors. The star prices will have to be slashed by 50% if films are to be viable, and that is unlikely. I believe GST will sound the death knell of many film companies."

Several regional film industries, including in Karnataka, Kerala and Bengal, have opposed the central government's plan.

As for Kamal Haasan, he still has an important film in the pipeline. The actor is preparing for the release of Vishwaroopam 2, which is in the post-production stage. The film is scheduled for release early next year.