Brand ambassador & business with Bengal

When Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee roped in an immensely popular Bollywood star,Shah Rukh Khan,as the brand ambassador of Bengal,it made front page news.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Kolkata | Published: February 16, 2012 6:49:41 am

When Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee roped in an immensely popular Bollywood star,Shah Rukh Khan,as the brand ambassador of Bengal,it made front page news. The Delhi-born actor,who hit the dream jackpot in Mumbai’s tinsel town,has a Bengal connection apart from his immense fan following — he owns the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) IPL cricket team.

Shah Rukh,who quickly obliged to Mamata’s request,has already inked deals with 10 sponsors for his KKR. So was there any business involved in him becoming the face of Bengal? His Red Chillies Entertainment Private Limited was at loggerheads with the erstwhile Left Front government over the payment of the amusement tax. There were allegations that the company evaded the entertainment tax by selling tickets of the IPL matches at Eden Gardens at prices much higher than what was printed on the tickets.

Asim Dasgupta,the then finance minister,said foul play had been detected in tickets for super-hospitality box at the Edens,which created huge controversy during the third season of the IPL. The tickets were priced at Rs 32,000 each and the state government decided to start an investigation against the franchise.

KKR’s ownership and financial transactions were also under the scanner and a few months ago Shah Rukh was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate.

Shah Rukh and the Left Front government never saw an eye-to-eye. Bengal has witnessed a change — the Left bequeathed the power to Trinamool Congress — so is it an opportunity for the silverscreen hero to do business in a conducive environment?

The amusement tax was fixed at 20 per cent of total tickets sold and last year the franchise paid Rs 25 lakh. They also paid Rs 35 lakh each to the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for seven matches that were played at Eden Gardens.

CAB treasurer Bablu Ganguly said there would be no reduction in charges this time. But the question remains whether the new government agrees to KKR’s long-standing demand of reducing the amusement tax?

“It will be great if the new government considers our request. But make no mistake,Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t become Bengal’s brand ambassador with an eye on getting some sops for the KKR. He loves Kolkata and its people and we believe that his appointment as the brand ambassador will reinforce our bond with the city,” KKR CEO Venky Mysore told The Indian Express. “Kolkata has always opened its heart to the Knight Riders and this year we are expecting full house in every match,because Shah Rukh’s name weaves a magic,” he added.

Former PWD minister Kshiti Goswami begs to differ. “Shah Rukh Khan is a very good actor. But he also knows how to do business. I believe the IPL has always been on his mind as he agreed to become the brand ambassador of the state. I had an interaction with him when there was a controversy regarding the super-hospitality box at Eden. He carried himself very well,with dignity. But at the same time,he was not willing to compromise on his business,” Goswami said.

Sports Minister Madan Mitra,however,claimed that the IPL has nothing to do with Shah Rukh becoming Bengal’s brand ambassador.

“It’s a decision taken by our beloved chief minister and she doesn’t do anything on condition. IPL is still two months away and it’s too early to tell if the KKR would be getting any tax reduction,” said Mitra.

His predecessor Kanti Ganguly refused to be drawn into the controversy,though he said that the appointment is “unlikely to make any difference” in terms of building the image of the state.

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