Mary Kom tax waiver: What about local film industry?

By Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times

In Mary Kom’s home state her biopic did not get released. In Manipur, for the last 14 years, there has been a blanket ban on all Hindi films at the behest of extremist groups, who are fighting for the state’s sovereignty from India.

The geographically closest that the film Mary Kom, directed by Omung Kumar and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, could get to Manipur was Assam. And here, the state government announced that the entertainment tax on the film would be waived. “As the movie revolves around boxer Mary Kom, the pride of the northeast and the country as a whole, we have decided to exempt it from entertainment tax,” chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi told reporters in Guwahati.

Entertainment tax is a tax levied on movie tickets and in Assam the rate is 15% for tickets costing up to Rs. 20 and 20% on tickets valued at more than Rs. 20.

While appreciating the fact that such a step would definitely bolster the viewership of the inspiring biopic, people closely associated with the Assamese film industry believe that such supporting gestures by the government are more necessary for the financially constrained local film industry, rather than a Bollywood film casting a highly bankable star.

“The tax waiver does not mean anything for the north-eastern film fraternity,” says Utpal Borpujari, a National Award-winning film critic from Assam. “It’s theoretically not a bad gesture as no entertainment tax means less ticket price which will encourage people to watch a film based on a real life hero from the northeast,” he says.

“But,” he adds, “In real terms, a commercial venture like Mary Kom does not require such largesse, while quality local films definitely do.”

Young music director, Anurag Saikia, who won the National Award this year for the Assamese non-feature film Yugadrashta, says that the main issues faced by filmmakers in the state arise due to lack of marketing, dearth of exhibition opportunities, and comparatively lesser number of theatres to screen the films.

Anurag adds, “At present there are very few movie theatres running regularly in Assam. Besides, all of these theatres do not run Assamese or regional films. It’s because the release of a big budget Bollywood films means that the numbers of shows of regional films is curtailed.”

Moreover, Anurag says that the government should provide financial help for the production and post-production of films made by upcoming film makers on the merit of their work.

This year, five films from the Northeast won the National Award while last year, seven films from the region had own the Award. Such award-winning films, made on shoestring budgets and limited resources, enthral juries and receive critical recognition every year.

Borpujari, however, notes that we seldom see the National Award-winning films getting any sort of relaxation in Assam, or even in the rest of the country.

He says, “If the government wants to give entertainment tax exemption, it should give to quality independent films – the ones that bring glory to the country.”

But, Bhargav Saikia, an independent film producer hailing from Assam, says that “to develop and improve the stagnant Assamese film industry”, the Assam government should start looking beyond National Award-winning films only.

“Maybe they could start by supporting young film makers who may not be necessarily National Award winners. We need young talent to make films, films which will have a connect with the youth and revive the film industry from its box office slumber, says Saikia, whose production company’s first release Kaafiron ki Namaaz, is doing the rounds at several international film festivals.

At the recently concluded film festival “Fragrance of the Northeast” in Delhi, union minister for information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar stressed on the potential of the northeast in the media and entertainment sector and said that his ministry would always be supportive in providing all possible support for promoting films from the region.


This piece was published on September 6, 2014 in Hindustan Times.