Bengaluru theatre has a new villain

Artistes say GST regime will tax them and audience.They call the move a penalty that will stifle arts

Published: 28th June 2017 09:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th June 2017 09:09 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose.

Express News Service

BENGALURU: A proposed 18% GST or Goods and Service Tax on tickets to watch performance acts has got venues and artistes stressing out equally.

“It was a shocker to be honest. I was expecting quite the opposite. Instead of offering support, a GST, a “goods” services tax essentially is prohibitive,” says Varun Kainth, a theatre actor.

The tax will hit theatre goers with costlier tickets, and artistes and production houses with costlier venues and equipment.

Bhoomija founder Gayathri Krishna calls the tax a punishment for organisers of art and cultural programmes.“If we do a show with tickets costing `300 and let’s say I do get a full house, I earn `3 lakh approximately. Now, for that to happen I spend around `10 lakh on production,” says Gayathri. After GST rolls out on July 1, Gayathri says, she will have to pay 18% tax each on rent for the venue, hiring sound/light equipment, services and the final collection from the ticket sales. This will cut deeply into hers and the artistes’ earnings.  

“The only way I can see it playing out is to charge it to the consumer. So the tickets will be `300+18% GST. Is it fair? I don’t think so, but I am left with no other option,” adds Gayathri.
Jagrati Theatre’s petition requesting exemption of GST on performing arts has gathered over 3,500 signatures online.

Jagdish Raja, director of development at Jagriti Theatre, had previously told City Express that the tax is a “burden” that could stifle performing arts. The tax is applicable on tickets above `250, informed Jagdish. Jagriti, which rents out space to artistes, also owns a production house.

Lakshmi Sankar, co-founder of Atta Galatta, says the tax will hit storytellers the most. “As a venue space, we just take our cut from the production,” she says; this means the additional cost will be passed on to the artiste. “It is really sad, however, to see how much the artistes will suffer having to pay 18% extra in taxes,” she adds.

Artistes put up a show after nearly three to four months of rehearsals and expect a decent turnout, says Varun. GST and pricier tickets would drive away the audience, he adds.

“The move is extremely depressing. It has just put theatre on a perennial ventilator support,” he says.
Theatre practitioners are of two kinds — those who moonlight, and so have steady jobs as well, the others pursue theatre as their sole means of livelihood. “The second group will be affected the worst,” says writer and director Hasnain Shaikh.

The people committed to this industry often make very small sums of money, for the months of work that they put in, says the founder of  Natak Nation, a performance troupe. Taxing them is irresponsible, he adds.

“It’s funny how there is always a huge hue and cry about protecting Indian culture from our political spokepersons, but they are doing something so detrimental to an industry that is dedicated to protecting that culture and cultivating social dialogue,” says Hasnain.

Taxing movies Vs Taxing theatres

The idea of having a single tax idea is itself problematic, says director Chanakya Vyas. “This is because the parameters of a multiplex ticket and a theatre performance ticket are different,” he adds. Gayathri too agrees with Chanakya. “I am not making a movie here, where the rights are sold before it is released and the producer has already made money. You can’t compare my earning from theatre to that of the movies,” says Gayathri. Puneet Gupta, co-founder of Mad Hats Theatre says, “This shows that people making these laws are quite clueless with respect to how little money theatre actually makes”. Actor Ratneshwar Banerjee believes GST could also be a productive move for art and culture.

“If the government can outline concrete plans for how they will use this money to support and encourage performing arts in India, then it may not be that bad an idea,” says the theatre artiste. He, however, adds that governments are usually aren’t very proficient in translating policies to ground action. Ratneshwar thinks there should be categories within performing arts for a taxation module. “How do you differentiate between a Naseeruddin Shah play, which gets sold out in minutes versus an amateur production, which manage on shoestring budgets,” he says of the current module of GST. Theatre artistes, writers and directors City Express talked to were however, positive that they will recieve viewership for their art, despite GST.

Blast from the past

Ranga Shankara’s first show tickets were priced at `49 in 2008, recalls Gayathri Krishna, part of Ranga Shankara’s advisory committee. “This was because `50 was the cu-off on levying tax on music and dance programmes,” she says. The theatre owners had filed a petition to get theatre exempted from the tax and had succeeded in getting an exemption, adds Gayathri. “The tax on music and dance is 10%. After GST, this will spike to 18%,” she says.

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