In Tamil Nadu, politics and cinema have shared a relationship that very few Indian states can boast of. Three Chief Ministers and several leaders have emerged from the realm of films and barring a few isolated events, Tamil politics and cinema have shared a unique bonhomie. But, the imposition of the 10% local body tax on Tamil films by the government has created a friction between politicians and film stars that has rarely been seen in the past.
Further, what raises eyebrows about the proposal to tax films more is the timing of it. GST was supposed to do away with complex taxation. Why the imposition of another tax, and why now?
Members of the film industry believe that the reason for the government's hard stance on the 'exorbitant tax' is the emergence of top stars - Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth - as a threat to existing politicians.
Multiple sources in the industry, from actors and producers to distributors and theatre owners, have told The News Minute that they believe the proposal to tax films more is intended to intimidate the film industry, which is seen as being more vocal in political matters of late. Following the death of J Jayalalithaa in December, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and many influencers from the film industry have voiced their political ambitions, and this, actors and theatre owners claim, has ruffled feathers in the government. The Government is now trying to put members of the film fraternity 'in their place'.
A senior actor who spoke to TNM said on the condition of anonymity, "There is a strong theory doing the rounds in the industry that this is the reason the Government is antagonising us. After Jayalalithaa's demise, everybody has become more outspoken against the government. But being celebrities, what we say gets widely reported. Maybe that is why they are trying to intimidate us."
Even theatre owners do not deny that this could be one the factors behind the government's move to impose the tax.
"They know that cinema has a huge influence on people and can even affect politics, so it is not surprising that they are trying to keep us in check," says the owner of a theatre in the Chennai.
An industry insider, who is known to the top actors explains that the threat perceived by the government is not limited to Rajini and Kamal. "Even actors like Vijay and Vishal nurture political ambitions. The government has marked several actors as threats," he explains.
A member of the Tamil Nadu Cinema Theatre Owners' Federation however asks, "If their aim is to intimidate us, why would they only impose a 10% tax? Couldn't they have done far more damage?"
But the damage has been done, claim owners of smaller theatres.
"The base price of tickets have only been hiked for multiplexes," says Nikilesh Surya, the owner of Rohini Silver screens. "Smaller theatres will suffer because tickets will still cost less than Rs.80. Small businesses are losing out here," he says. The President of the theatre-owner’s association, Abirami Ramanathan, also agrees and said that they will be approaching the government to rollback the tax.
The Nadigar Sangam meanwhile, has announced that they will be meeting the Chief Minister on Tuesday to demand a rollback. "We are expecting a positive response from the government over the matter and hope they will understand how difficult things are for us," says Nadigar Sangam President Nasser. "The entire industry including artists, directors and technicians are united in the opposition against the tax. Why must only Tamil Nadu impose such a tax? Wasn't GST meant to stop local taxes?" he asks.
And what if the government disagrees to rollback the tax? A strong possibility, considering State information Minister Kadambur Raju's statement on Monday that there was no plan to remove or cut down the tax.
"Then we will decide what has to be decided," says Nasser cryptically. "There is no middle-ground in this matter."
His statement was however decoded by another theatre owner who says, "We will not allow films to release during Diwali and it will be a huge embarrassment for the state government."
In recent months, both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have hinted at their entry into the political sphere, and have particularly raised an issue which is sure to resonate with the common man - corruption.
At a fan meeting in Chennai, the superstar said he would show the door to all "money-minded people" if he did make the plunge into politics.
"When war comes they will come to the rescue of their motherland. I have a profession, work, duty and so do you. Go to your places, do your duty, take care of your vocation. Let us face the war when it comes," he roared, sending fans at the venue into a frenzy.
While the actor then went silent over said plunge, the Ulaganayagan took over the narrative. He began to attack the government over allegations of corruption on social media, his every tweet avidly followed by lakhs of people.
Industry insiders believe that the ‘tax attack’ on the film industry is rooted in these recent events. “Frankly, I cannot think of any other reason,” says a top actor on conditions of anonymity. And their response to the government is not to cower down, but to fight back - something the industry has rarely done in the past.