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Tax waiver decision triggers rethink on content of films

Meera Srinivasan
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‘Nanban' is one of the first films to get an entertainment tax waiver as per the new guidelines.
‘Nanban' is one of the first films to get an entertainment tax waiver as per the new guidelines.

: While some producers eyeing tax benefits may consider making films on subjects that do not warrant a heavy dose of violence, many others in the industry say they would base such decisions purely on what a story requires.

According to a section of producers, the State government's decision to waive entertainment tax for films which have a ‘U' certificate, reflect the culture and ethos of Tamilians and do not show violence or vulgarity excessively, is encouraging filmmakers to consider different themes. The decision is taken by a committee constituted by the government.

T.Siva, vice-president, Tamil Nadu Film Producers' Council, says the Council is also raising awareness of the provision. “At all our meetings, we tell producers and directors to avoid gore, violence or vulgarity in their films. A 30 per cent tax waiver means a lot to a producer.”

Actor-director Cheran observes that the tax waiver is likely to bring in a healthy trend in Tamil cinema, for the decision on the waiver is based on the content of the films, rather than just the name, as was the case earlier.

However, he says that in an ideal situation, the industry should not be given a tax exemption. “Tax is paid only on the revenue made. The government is allowing such a waiver, because it recognises that the industry is suffering huge losses. While the current tax exemption is certainly welcome, strong efforts have to be made simultaneously to curb piracy. Only that will help us address the issue in the long run,” Mr. Cheran says.

Only content matters

While the larger problems facing the film industry may need a series of consistent efforts, the idea of a possible tax waiver has initiated some introspection of content in Tamil films. Vulgarity in humour and undue violence are two aspects that are often critiqued when content is discussed.

Film buffs such as S. Rekha feel that in the last few years several films have resorted to a “formula-like” portrayal of violence. “And the quality of humour has also deteriorated,” she says.

Mr. Cheran also feels that there is an increasing tendency to use “double meaning lines”, as jokes bordering on sexual innuendo are known in industry parlance.

However, directors feel general rules on use of violence or vulgarity would just not work. They emphasise that all decisions on content, whether it is about violence or humour, should be driven by the story. Thiagarajan Kumararaja, director of the critically-acclaimed Aaranya Kandam says: “If a story merits violence, then the director is justified in showing it. A director, who is making a film, may not really worry about a possible tax exemption. His or her energy is focussed on telling a story, and telling that story in the most convincing way possible.”

Observing that just like directors have their interests, producers too have their own, he says: “Finally, all of us come to an understanding, as we all want the film to do well. It is simply about arriving at that right balance.”

Director Shankar's recent hit ‘Nanban' is among the first few films to get the waiver as per the new guidelines. Interestingly, its executive producer Raju Easwaran says producers cannot afford to aim at awards or subsidies while making a film. “In this case, we were keen on being faithful to the original, and providing good content. Any film should stand on its own merit. A subsidy is an added incentive,” he says.

Certifying films

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or the “Censor Board” also understands “content is king”, says V. Packirisamy, Regional Officer. “We do not have an archaic notion of what is permissible in a ‘U' category film. We try to be liberal and fair, but convincing film makers of the cuts they need to make is not always easy,” he says.

The Board has four categories of certification – ‘U', ‘U/A', ‘A” and ‘S'. Every film is screened to the Board's Examining Committee first. Besides certification, if it recommends certain cuts and the director has issues with that, he or she could go to the Revising Committee. If a director is still not convinced, the film may be taken to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.

Of the 150 Tamil feature films made in 2011, a total of 29 received the ‘A' certificate. A total of 34 films were in the ‘U/A' category and 87 obtained a ‘U' certificate.

Theatres should prominently display the rating that each film receives, along with the “cut list” that gives details of the scenes the Board wanted cut. “However, most theatres do not do this,” Mr. Packirisamy says.

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