DON'T PANIC: GST and its Impact on the Performing Arts

DON’T PANIC! 

GST and its impact on the Performing Arts

Written by Zohra Mallik & Hina Siddiqui

The Goods and Services Tax was finally rolled out on the 1st of July 2017 at the stroke of  midnight. After all, our Government does have a flair for the dramatic. But what really, is the fuss and mayhem about? Over a hundred and fifty countries have implemented  GST (roses by other names) over the years and their populations came through the capitalist scourge just fine.

India’s version of an overarching goods and services tax has been 17 years in the making. It’s faced a lot of resistance, as you might guess, from various lobbies and people wary of what a uniform tax could mean for their business. The powers that be, speak of it as a way – the only way – to reduce corruption (wait, what was demonetization for then?), prevent tax-evasion and improve the overall efficiency of the system. And as we are settling into the first month of its imposition, with vendors and suppliers showing no signs of stopping to use it as an excuse for delays – let’s re-examine the alarmist outlook towards ‘one nation, one tax (sans momos)’, shall we?

Disclaimer: This is in no way an attempt to downplay the implications of the GST, no one’s saying this is a hoax created by the Chinese (not yet, anyway), but let’s look at all the facts and figure out what the GST means (for the theatre and arts community at least).

 

Taxes on Art prior to the GST

Artwork such as folk paintings, ceramics and antiques were levied with VAT, but were also exempt in certain states. Entertainment tax on movie tickets was 8 to 10 percent, with Maharashtra being an exception ranging from 15-45% (some kind of vengeance for past crimes, we believe). Regional films, however, were exempt. Dance and music events were at a cool 10% (NH7, you listening?). And theatre was exempt.

And now…

A uniform art tax of 12% may or may not be a slight improvement. One side speaks of a danger to the livelihood of artists and artisans at the lower rungs of the pyramid. On the other hand there is skepticism about whether people will stop buying art because of 12%.

As of 11th June, the GST Council places movie tickets under Rs 100 at 18% and anything above that at a ginormous 28%. No exemptions. We’ll just let that sink in for a bit.

Performances – whether they be the Maganiyar Seduction or the your neighbourhood community theatre’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – are all going to be treated as one. Tickets to dance performances, music concerts and plays that are priced above Rs. 250 is at 18%.

But here is the cincher. CA Chintan Shah, who was part of a discussion conducted by United Kalakar in Mumbai, GST 4 Artists, clarifies that unless a theatre company has a turnover of over 20 lakhs per year they are not liable to pay GST. Thus, GST laws do not apply to the average practitioner and this in itself, is an exemption of sorts being given to those within the performing arts community.

But what about the bigger question of arts (and artists) being exempt from paying taxes? It’s the principle of thing, after all. We asked Noshir Dadrawala of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy to weigh in. According to him, “Performing arts and performing artists are of all kinds. But, let’s say, performing arts where India’s National culture or heritage is being preserved or promoted, there should be a GST exemption.” This of course does not allay the woes of contemporary practitioners, who struggle for funding, resources and a fair share of the market while doing the critical work of developing artistic discourse in the country.  

Chintan Shah offered a couple of solutions to those who cannot escape the burden of GST. Unfortunately, both of these entail writing to the government to change the terms under which GST can be levied. Firstly to demand that GST only be levied on tickets priced above Rs. 500 and secondly, to amend the law so that amateur theatre groups may start off by only paying 12% GST for, say, the first three years. 

What amateur means in the Indian context though, is highly debatable.

A performance at Jagriti (Image first appeared in the Deccan Chronicle)

Jagriti Theatre, a multifaceted space for the performing arts in Bengaluru has taken the lead on the idea of petitioning the Government to gain exemption from taxes. They, in fact, are demanding a complete exemption for the performing arts. This is not completely unprecedented. Several European countries offer tax exemptions to the arts, even going as far as granting rebates on property tax to cultural centres, arts organizations and related institutes. The primary concern in the Indian context, according to Jagdish Raja, founder of Jagriti Theatre, is not for the audience as much as it is for the theatre practitioners who may have to forgo necessary expenses for the production in order to stay within the Rs. 250 budget.

A big cause for concern is that registration under GST brings with it the need to hire a Chartered Accountant and that’s an expense that majority of artists may not be able to afford. According to Noshir Dadrawala, “GST compliance involves several layers and what may apply to one artist may not apply to another.” And that essentially translates into getting professional help. 

A moment to reflect on the bigger picture…  

It would be a little extreme to state that this move by the government is penalizing art. But it certainly is commodifying it. And at one end those of us, who looked at our first tax returns as the real entry into adulthood, are thinking – maybe this is a good thing. Because if you are taxing what I do, then I won’t have to spend a lifetime convincing my parents, in-laws, friends, clients, audiences et al that ‘theatre is a real job’. This tax could be a real paradigm shift in the way people view and consume art of all kinds and somehow, ironically, a tax, will finally reveal the true value of art. But on the other hand, where is the associated education of the proletariat that should go hand-in-hand with this proposed change? Where is the support that takes the burden of turning profits away from individual practitioners and places the responsibility on the consumer of the practice? And who needs to talk about this – the ex-engineer climbing her way up the Open Mic circuit or the practitioner who commands the headlines?

 

Well, there is always room for interpretation and if there is one thing this sector believes, it is that no one truth can save us all. And yes, while it is true that unless you are turning 20l or more each year, you can more or less proceed with life as in (albeit paying more for tampons and the next Avengers movie), there are still a few things we should start doing:

  1. Sign Jagriti’s online petition here. In a country of over a billion, this petition only asks for 5000 signatures.

  2. Consult your CA. That’s Chartered Accountant for all you anti-capitalism types. If you don’t have one, get one, especially if you run a registered company or proprietary firm. Check here if that helps.

  3. Financial planning is not a bad word. But you don’t need to do it alone. Collectivism is a strength, let’s leverage it. Workshops for financial planning, discussions like the one United Kalakar spearheaded, online communities to compare notes and seek advice – these are all things we can and should do for all of us.  

  4. Let’s talk about money, shall we? We live in a culture that doesn’t talk about money. We live in a time when we often find ourselves living beyond our means for reasons we don’t fully comprehend. Let’s push past the silence and discuss money, bank balances and salaries. There’s evidence to show that talking about what you get paid actually helps everyone earn more.

  5. And let’s chop up that credit card while we’re at it.   

 

A towel may not help, but don’t panic. We may not be economists, but we are artists. We can envision solutions and taxes or not, that’s where the future starts.


References: 

http://indianexpress.com/article/business/economy/art-tax-gst-cess/

http://www.financialexpress.com/industry/gst-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/703946/

http://time.com/money/4212413/financial-advice-for-artists/

https://www.glamour.com/story/why-we-need-to-talk-to-our-coworkers-about-our-salaries

Tax Incentives for the Creative Industries edited by Sigrid Hemels, Kazuko Goto, Springer, 2017

A Handbook of Cultural Economics edited by Ruth Towse, EE Publishing 2003

For a complete list of GST rates, exemptions and brackets, look right here. 

Pai Paishachi Goshta: Play@theDSM

People have changed with the changing times. The parameters of happiness have changed. Also the approach towards the practical and financial affairs has changed. An old lady summarisesthis change in her own words.

A story of an old lady “Pai Paishachi Goshta”

Pai Paishachi Goshta is based on a story by eminent writer Dr. Vijaya Rajadhyaksha. Adapted and directed by Vipul Mahagaonkar, the play had its first show in 2015, and has had numerous shows across the country.

The play has also won a lot of awards including a 2016 Zee Natya Gaurav for Best Actress to Ila Bhate, a veteran actress in Marathi theatre and film.

Production House :- Taleem

Actor- Ila Bhate

Story – Dr.Vijaya Rajadhyaksha

Adapted & Directed by- Vipul Mahagaonkar.

Produced by- Ujwal Mantri

Music by Prabodh Shetye

Costumes- Vinaya Walawalkar Mantri.

 

About the director 

Vipul Mahagaonkar

Vipul Mahagaonkar has directed two of the best experimental plays currently running – Khidki and Pai Paishachi Goshta. Both adaptations, done in his own special way. Both absolutely poles apart in terms of content and execution and even emotions. That has given us an idea of how versatile this man is with his handling of plays. And he intends to take theatre to every nook and corner of the country, especially the inaccessible ones. With such talent and such a remarkable thought of taking the art form everywhere, he is easily one of the best that experimental theatre has.

About the actor

Ila Bhate

In her stage career, Ila has played more than 25 roles. Her most popular plays are ‘Mi Majhya Mulancha’ with Vikram Gokhale and the widely acclaimed ‘U-Turn’ (2008) with Girish Oak. U-Turn, which treated the subject of companionship in the elderly age, has been played more than 500 times, which is rare for a drama that has only two characters. It received numerous awards including honour from the State Government of Maharashtra. In fact, we can proudly say the U-Turn is the only two character play to complete 500 shows with the same cast throughout.

 

When?

29th July, 7 PM

Where?

5th Floor, The Drama School Mumbai, Girgaon, Mumbai – 400 004

Tickets?

Rs. 200/-

Book tickets here.

 


Acting Shakespeare: Two-Day Intensive Workshop with Paul Goodwin

 

The Course Director for MA in Acting at the Drama Centre London, Paul Goodwin, brings decades of experience and expertise on Shakespeare and acting for Shakespeare to India. The Drama School Mumbai has managed to get a couple of dates from the man and arranged a workshop on Acting Shakespeare.

The 2-Day intensive workshop will delve into the various aspects of voice, breathing, movement, and the verses that will help an actor unlock his true potential in Shakespearean acting.

The workshop will be held on the 13th and the 14th July 2017, from 8 am to 1 pm.

About the Instructor
Paul Goodwin
Course Director, MA Acting at Drama Centre London
MA in Voice Studies, Central School of Speech and Drama
Artistic Director, The Shakespeare Edit (a classical theatre company), London

Paul has been teaching and directing Shakespeare for professional actors and students for more than 30 years. He is the Course Director at the Drama Centre London, alumni of which include: Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Emilia Clarke, to name a few. Prior to the Drama Centre, Paul has worked extensively in Text, Voice and Artist Development at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is currently working on directing a dramatised version of Shakespeare’s narrative poem – LUCRECE, to be performed in London as well as a production of Twelfth Night at the Vakhtangov school in Moscow

Workshop Takeaways
Open and widen the horizon of the voice and the imagination.
Find the impulse for breath and vocal and physical gesture.
Be free to play within fully explored verse structures.
Use practical tools to unlock Shakespeare for you as an actor

Workshop Structure
Day One: You will be given a piece of Shakespearean text, and through a series of practical exercises explore – through the body, voice and rhythm – the clues that are contained in the text, that lead towards an understanding that can then be communicated to the audience through a soliloquy.

Day Two: Building on the exploratory text work from Day one, you will work on a scene, and with a partner, explore the action in the scene. What characters want, and how, as in life, character is revealed through action. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action” Hamlet’s advice to the players

Through this 2 day workshop, you will gain practical tools that will unlock Shakespeare for you as an actor, and provide you with a working method that will allow you to be more confident when you approach heightened poetic drama.

Dates: 13th and 14th July | Time: 8 am to 1 pm
Venue: Bhalerao Auditorium, Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, Girgaon, Charni Road East, Mumbai.
Fees: ₹4500/-

To Apply :
To Apply : Email a recent C.V. with a cover letter that tells us why you want to participate to info@thedramaschoolmumbai.in

www.thedramaschoolmumbai.in
facebook/TheDramaSchoolMumbai
+91 9619336336