Thursday, February 8, 2007

Tax Exemption for "Guru" - The Message

The Uttar Pradesh government has recently made Mani Ratnam’s film” Guru” Tax Free. By exempting this film from entertainment tax and making the price of tickets cheaper, it has made it possible for more people to see the film than would otherwise have. In fact in recent times, most films starring Amitabh Bacchan or his son have been made tax free. Although the exemption in most cases are made on political considerations of one kind or the other, in the context of Guru, the ethical implications of the move set against the main message of Guru Bhai are worth some thought.

Typically movies are exempted from entertainment tax when they bring to the table apart from healthy entertainment, some ethical values that the government would like to see diffused. Some of the movies that have worthily enjoyed this exemption in various states in the last few years are Swades, Black, Lagaan and Rang De Basanti. Few would venture to argue about these films and their artistic merit.

Guru is supposedly loosely base on the life of a prominent industrialist of recent times. Abhisekh Bacchan as Guru Bhai, the protagonist begins his career in Turkey working for Shell. From there on, he steadily ascends the corporate ladder, eventually, he comes back home where he wants to be his own boss. He marries his friend's sister Sujatha (Aishwarya Rai) so that he can use the dowry as his capital. Soon he moves to Mumbai, the ever-happening place where he reaches pinnacles of materialism while steadily slipping in his ethics and morals. His friend of previous generation and a well-wisher, Manikdas Gupta (Mithun Charkavarty) finds Guru's means of acquiring power and money abominable.

The moral of the movie, one might say is that it is OK to manipulate everything for one’s own success and material gain. By endorsing a movie which has this message as a backdrop, is the Uttar Pradesh government trying to say that this is the way to go? That in these days of 8 or 9 or 10 percent economic growth, success is also that matters and the means is damned? It would seem so and the irony of a movie promoting capitalist at its crassest being rewarded by a government purporting itself to be socialist in its ideals and inspiration can not be missed.

Ratan Tata was recently interviewed on CNN-IBN in the after glow of the Tata Group’s acquiring of Corus. In a telling observation on corporate governance, he remarks to Rajdeep Sardesai that “There is always a view among some segments of the industrial community that they are above the law and that they can manage the environment.” Ratan Tata agrees in the interview that it is still possible in India to” cut corners and get away; if you need, you can peddle influence with politicians, or influence someone, bribe someone”.

Well , any one who lives in India knows that life is all about managing the environment through whatever means and Guru Bhai will show you how if you go and watch the movie in U.P where the tickets have just got cheaper. But it is unfortunate that the ethic of unscrupulousness is the direction that the state government seems to be endorsing by its gesture of exempting the movie from entertainment tax.

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