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From Amitabh Bachchan to Salman Khan: How taxman came to love Bollywood

Ajay Mankotia
Ajay MankotiaSep 25, 2015 | 19:31

From Amitabh Bachchan to Salman Khan: How taxman came to love Bollywood

Forbes recently released its first global list of highest paid actors. Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar are among the world's top ten actors in the list. Amitabh and Salman entered the list in the joint seventh place, with estimated earnings of $33.5 million in the past year. Akshay Kumar followed behind in the ninth place, with $32.5 million. Shah Rukh Khan (at 18) and Ranbir Kapoor (at 30) with estimated earnings of $26 million and $15 million respectively, also made it to the list.

These celebrities are also among the highest taxpayers in India and are considered to be conscientious contributors to the national exchequer. In fact, most of the film industry comprises stars who are financially smart, invest wisely, maintain accounts professionally, and pay their taxes honestly. And, by and large, they have their feet firmly planted on the ground.

Things were rather different in the earlier days.

Those days, as a class, film stars had more run-ins with the tax department than any other category. The primary reason was that with their larger-than-life lifestyles and their outsized pay checks, they were prime targets for the tax department. Being a filmstar meant having a bull's-eye on one's back when it came to the taxman. He would aggressively pursue high-profile cases of suspected tax evasion in order to make an example out of celebrities. This guaranteed a widespread coverage of the tax shenanigans and also served the purpose of deterrence to others. On the other side of the table, the posting to the film circle in the tax department was much sought after due to the glamour involved in unfettered access to film stars, attending film shootings, invitation to film awards ceremonies and reflected prestige and glory that came with associating with the film industry.

Also, in the earlier days, the film stars were not financially savvy, unlike these days. They trusted others to stay on top of their finances, whether it is their relatives or accountants, instead of keeping track of it themselves. This blind trust had many an unhappy ending including tax problems. In Mumbai, we had carried out a raid on film stars who were suspected of receiving a large chunk of their film pay check in the guise of earnings from stage shows abroad on which tax deductions were then allowed. Some of them pointed their finger at the financial experts in their corner who had undertaken this course of action on their behalf. We also found many instances of unscrupulous relatives indulging in manipulation of accounts with the film stars having no inkling of any wrongdoing.

There were also those who had an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They thought they were above the law, as they got so much love and support from fans that tended to warp their mind. They didn't feel it was their duty to pay taxes.

There were some celebrities who took exception to giving the taxman his share of their earnings. Most of them reluctantly paid but some expressed their angst in their own unique way.

"Jagat narayan ko chhod ke santo, nagad narayan ke hain sab yaaram; in sabke pichhe arrey pad gaya income taxum; jai govindam jai gopalam" is the last stanza of the song "Guni Jano Rey Bhakt Jano" from the film Aansoo aur Muskaan (1971) sung by and picturised on Kishore Kumar. The stanza encapsulates Kishore's utter frustration with the taxman.

Kishore's obsession with money and his stinginess were well known in the film industry. His capacity to "turn voice into invoice", as one film producer put it unkindly, was best symbolised by the framed slogan in his drawing-room which read: "I want money".

Similarly, his reluctance to pay taxes was a byword in tax circles. Kishore made Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Lukochuri in Bengali hoping they would flop. He wanted to show losses in his income and avoid paying tax. He waited eagerly for them to collapse but was taken aback when both went on to be raging successes. Chalti went on to become the second highest grosser of 1958. In a panic he gifted Chalti and all its rights to his secretary Anoop Sharma. That was the beginning of his long running battle with the tax authorities. His son Amit Kumar confessed that it was impossible to bind his father down to rules, regulations, and relations.

His palatial and heavily-guarded bungalow at Juhu became the target of innumerable raids. In one such raid in 1982, taxmen attacked his house walls with crowbars and metal detectors. Many times he used to set his dogs on the taxmen.

This incident may be apocryphal. In the 1960s, Kalidas Batvabbal, disgusted with Kishore's lack of cooperation during the shooting of Half Ticket, gave him away to the income tax authorities. Kishore had to face a raid at his house. Later, Kishore invited him home, tricked him by asking him to enter a cupboard and locked him inside. He unlocked Batvabbal after two hours and told him never to come to his house again.

Nobody knew where Kishore kept his money or what he did with the huge sums of money he earned every month. Kishore's take was that the income tax authorities had virtually reduced him to penury and it would take him more than another lifetime to settle all his dues with them. Kishore had to do stage shows to earn money to pay his tax arrears.

Then there is the case of Sheikh Mukhtar. He was Bollywood's first super hulk .Tall and hefty, he was endowed with an immense physique and a rugged face and looked like a Neanderthal man. But he was a gentle giant with a heart of gold. He was a man of integrity and had no vice.

In a career spanning 40 years, he acted in 40 films and produced eight films.

Sheikh spent his hard-earned money on Noor Jahan (1967), his dream project. He wanted to make the movie at par with the legendary Mughal-e-Azam, but the film bombed. Even established stars of historical movies, Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari, couldn't save the film.

Songs composed so lovingly by Roshan such as Raat ki mehfil sooni sooni (Lata) and Sharabi sharabi yeh saawan ka mausam (Suman Kalyanpur) failed to salvage the movie.

It is reported that debts began to pile up; creditors started knocking on his door, income tax arrears multiplied. Broken and shattered by his inability to resolve the crisis, he fled to Pakistan and took with him the prints of his films. But the Pakistan film industry offered him no support. He kept running from pillar to post, visiting government offices requesting that he be allowed to release his films. He eventually got a special permission from Zia-Ul-Haq. This was challenged in the court by a producer. On May 11, 1980 the case was decided in his favour but it took a heavy toll on his health and he died the next day of a heart attack. On May 23, 1980 Noor Jahan was released, a few days after Sheikh died, and proved to be a big success. Unwittingly, Sheikh had opened the Pakistani gates for Indian films.

Sheikh's son in a tele-chat with me, however, denied that his father migrated to Pakistan because of debts. He claimed that it was because he was treated like a third-class citizen in India.

Poor Vijay Anand ,after three hit films in a row (Guide, Teesri Manzil, Jewel Thief), had to suffer a reversal in Kahin Aur Chal (Dev Anand and Asha Parekh) because the film's financier Tolaram Jalan wanted a flop to adjust his income taxes .He released it in a single matinée show and then pulled it. This experience rattled the filmmaker, especially since the film never resurfaced again.

Ironically, Kishore had sung "Lekin pehle de do mera paanch rupaiya baara aana" in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. If only the tax department had demanded the modest amount of "paanch rupaiya baara aana" and not the unconscionable rates of the socialist era, perhaps the eccentricities described above may well not have happened!

Last updated: January 28, 2016 | 12:06
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