A team of Income Tax officials conducted a search at a film production company in Chennai owned by Tamil actor Vishal on Monday, a day after he hit out at state BJP leader H Raja for allegedly watching a pirated version of the movie Mersal. Raja and other Tamil Nadu BJP leaders had slammed Mersal, starring Tamil superstar Vijay, for what they described as “false criticism” of central government initiatives such as GST and Digital India.
According to a senior I-T official, the search was conducted by four officials to probe charges that the production house, Vishal Film Factory, had deducted tax at source of payment worth Rs 51 lakh made to various clients but allegedly failed to deposit the amount with the government. “When our team visited his office address after 3 pm, Vishal was not present. The inquiry continued for about three hours as the books of accounts were not readily available. Vishal spoke to our officers over phone and agreed that he would make the payment in two instalments. He has been served summons to appear before the I-T department on Friday,” said the official.
Vishal, who is president of the Tamil Film Producers Council and general secretary of the actors association, launched his production company in 2013. Official sources said the tax issue was linked to payments made to clients, including artists, and crew who worked for Vishal Film Factory.
While Vishal’s office and official sources initially indicated that the search was conducted by the Goods and Services Tax intelligence wing, they later clarified that the officials were from the Income-Tax department.
The timing of the searches sparked intense speculation in Tamil movie circles after Vishal criticised Raja following the BJP leader’s remarks that he had watched portions of Mersal online. Known for his anti-piracy campaigns, Vishal sought a public apology from Raja on Sunday. “A national leader of a national party has just confessed to watching a newly released film not in the theatre, but illegally. Being a leader who is known by the public, how can you support piracy without any shame?” Vishal said. But Raja denied the charges and claimed that he had watched some clips of the movie that were shared on WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC) said that it has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union I&B Minister Smriti Irani, seeking action against Raja for allegedly watching ‘Mersal’ online. SIFCI is the apex body of studio owners, producers, distributors and exhibitors from all the southern states.