Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taxing time for the stars and their fans

Malayalis are coming to terms with the Income Tax raids on superstars Mammooty and Mohanlal

By Shevlin Sebastian

Last month, Keralites got a big surprise when 80 Income Tax officials raided the offices and houses of Malayalam superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal in Kochi, Chennai, Bangalore, and Thiruvananthapuram. More than Rs 30 crore in undeclared assets has been unearthed. In the past few weeks, there has been a varied reaction to this news.

Bangalore-based professional Deepak Thomas who is on holiday in Kochi says that he was not surprised by the news. “Mammooty and Mohanlal are like most rich people,” he says. “They want to evade taxes as much as possible.”

However, he says that will not prevent him from watching a movie featuring the superstars. “I admire their talent as actors,” he says. “Regarding their problems, it is an issue between them and the IT department.”

Film buff Meena Menon says that she is disappointed that the stars do not lead ethical lives. “They are already so lucky,” she says. “They have fame, talent, wealth, and the love of the public. It is greed that has made them behave the way they did.”

Meena is not sure whether she would like to see a new Mohanlal or Mammooty starrer. “I am conflicted about it,” she says.

Nisam Vallakkavadu has no such conflicts. The state general secretary of the All Kerala Mammootty Fans Welfare Association says that raids on Bollywood stars happen all the time. “So what is the big fuss?” he asks. “Has the media focused on the fact that last year Mammooty paid Rs 1.3 crore as taxes? They are just sensationalising the issue. Why cannot the IT department focus on the politicians who hoard crores of rupees in Swiss banks and are never caught?”

Nissam laughs when asked about whether there will be an impact on the box office. “On the day the news about the raids was flashed on all the television channels, Mammooty was shooting for 'Venicile Vyaapaari' in Alleppey,” he says. “The crowd just showered their affection on him. You must remember that he has been a superstar for 30 years now. A few raids are not going to dent his image at all.”

Girish Lal, who has been in the film industry for the past 30 years as a distributor, agrees that there will be no impact on the box office. “Public memory is short,” he says. “After a couple of months, when a new Mammooty or Mohanlal film is released, the people will flock to the theatres.”

Within the industry, the surprise was that only Rs 30 crore was unearthed. “We expected Rs 300 crore,” says Girish, with a naughty smile. “As superstars, it was inevitable that one day both would be subject to income tax raids.”

Meanwhile, Raju George, a veteran film director, says that there might be an impact if punishment is meted out to the two stars. “At this moment investigations are going on,” he says. “So, they cannot be pronounced guilty.” But he feels that even if there is a negative outcome, the public will not stop seeing their films. “They are great artistes and the people admire them,” he says. “Mammooty and Mohanlal will continue to flourish. There is no stopping them.”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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