Don’t club theatre with cinemas on GST says founder of Jagriti Theatre

Arts & Culture

People in the performing arts sector say they are suffering losses.

Swarnali Chakraborty

Bangalore, January 18, 2018: English theatre groups are asking the government to remove performing arts from the entertainment tax because it is not fair to include commercial movies and theatre in the same tax slab. Theatre does not get the kind of investment that a commercial movie gets, they say, adding that regional language theatre groups are not suffering losses under the GST regime because their ticket prices are not above Rs. 249.

The performing arts sector has suffered a setback due to the 18 per cent GST on ticket prices. Jagriti theatre along with various other artists from all over the country feel the government‘s move will only lead to classical art forms losing its popularity.

Jagdish Raja, founder of the Jagriti theatre, says, we had asked the government to remove GST on performing arts. They are charging 18 per cent on tickets priced over Rs 249. The government could impose taxation on the amount exceeding Rs 249 but they are not doing that. This is making the whole performing arts sector very expensive. The regional language drama gets away because the ticket prices are anyway not more than Rs 150 to 200, but the real problem is being faced by the English drama theatres.

We have been forced to file GST and employ a chartered accountant for the purpose, which we feel is not right. Which is why we had filed a petition where almost 3,000 theatre personalities had given their signatures, he added.

The same sentiment was supported by Guru Datha of the We Move Theatre who also added, theatres at large did not have any entertainment tax previously. Now, along with GST each state body has been given their freedom to impose any kind of extra tax on this 18 per cent which is called the state tax. This requires a lot of paperwork because we need to file GST and then GST returns and I don’t think the performing theatre groups and artists will be willing to do this kind of paperwork.

Jimmy Xaviers, a theatre artist who has been working for almost 20 years said, I think the filing of a petition against the GST is justified and I support it. Because I have been doing theatre for about 18 to 20 years now, I know that theatre groups don’t generally make any money with just ticket sale. Whatever money we make just goes to put the production together and that too after doing multiple shows. It’s an expensive affair, renting the theatre, costumes, lights and we have to put in our own money. The performing arts is a large industry. So putting movies and theatres in the same bracket is very unfair. If performing arts is not moved out of this bracket, the number of people putting up shows will gradually decrease because nobody wants to suffer a loss. So this is a plea going out to the government asking them to reconsider their decision.

“When I started doing theatre 20 years ago at that time the ticket price was Rs 200 which has remained the same unless there is a celebrity doing the show. But 10 years ago the production cost was cheaper but now all other prices have gone up but if we still keep the ticket price at Rs 200 we will obviously incur losses. So that is why we have increased the ticket price just a little bit to cut our losses”, he added.

The Chairman of FKCCI (Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry,) I.S Prasad has said that because theatre also comes under entertainment it has to be taxed under the 18 per cent GST bracket.

The 18 per cent GST on performing arts has not only affected theatre groups but individual artists as well.

Noted Kathak dancer and senior disciple of Pt. Birju Maharaj, Saswati Sen said, “Kathak is a classical form of art and needs to be recognized and encouraged because the country needs the representation of this culture. We have always requested the government to give classical arts the encouragement and representation it needs. In this regard, the GST has obviously not helped us. I think the government should take an overall review of their decision to impose 18 per cent GST.”

Kathak maestro Shovana Narayan says, we are living in times when classical forms of art need more and more encouragement. I feel the government should not impose a tax on performing arts because we do not want to be involved in numbers. The government should encourage these art forms because this is the tradition of India.

Bangalore based Bharatanatyam dancer, Kirti Ramgopal said, it’s a big blow for us dancers specifically, because earnings for dancers are pretty bleak, but when we rent theatres, they want an extra GST on the rent, the videographer wants GST and it is the same with our costumes and jewellery. So not only the tickets but also everything that we buy for a show is already taxed, on top of that, the audience is asked to pay another 18 per cent on the ticket. This has really affected the footfall in art shows and dance performances throughout the country.

Jagriti theatre and a few other theatre groups in the city have not given up on their protest against the taxation on performing arts and are planning to organise a dialogue with the government about the GST on performing arts.

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