The Income Tax (IT) Department Wednesday conducted searches in at least 30 locations in Mumbai and Pune connected with actor Taapsee Pannu and film-maker Anurag Kashyap as well as his partners linked to production house Phantom Films Pvt Ltd.
The raids elicited a strong response from the Maharashtra state government which called it an attempt by the Centre using agencies to intimidate those who spoke out against the BJP government.
Those whose premises were searched include current Phantom directors Madhu Mantena and Sibhashish Sarkar who is also CEO of Reliance Entertainment; Kashyap’s associates and film directors Vikas Bahl and Vikramaditya Motwane. Also searched were senior executives of two talent management firms Kwan Entertainment and Exceed Entertainment.
Officials claimed the searches are part of a probe into alleged tax evasion by Phantom Films, some entities and people associated with these companies. The tax department is verifying Phantom’s cash transactions and books that allegedly show “disproportionately low income from superhit movies.”
“The searches are not against the individuals but against the entities where they hold shares or are a director,” claimed an official.
Both Kashyap, 48, and Pannu, 33, have been critical of the ruling party and the Centre and questioned policies, including the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and, most recently, the farm laws, on social media.
Like Kashyap, Pannu, too, showed solidarity with students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, when masked outsiders, allegedly affiliated to the ruling party, attacked them on campus early last year. In recent months, Pannu, who has 4.5 million followers on Twitter, has highlighted the ongoing farmers’ protest at Delhi’s borders.
“Such raids have become very common as the BJP uses Central agencies to target people speaking up against its governments. This is a medium used by the Central Government to pressure people and stifle their voice,” said Maharashtra Public Works Department Minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan.
Echoing this was ally NCP leader and state Minority Development Minister Nawab Malik: “The premises of Anurag Kashyap and Pannu have been raided. Both were raising their voices against the Modi government. This action has been carried out to suppress their voices.” Malik is also chief spokesperson of Sharad Pawar-led NCP.
Rajya Sabha MP and deputy leader of the Shiv Sena Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted: “Hope the Income Tax department of our country, is saved from bonded slavery status soon. Same wishes for ED and CBI too.”
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, responding to a question, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “This is too much…Probe agencies undertake investigations based on credible information and the matter later goes to courts as well.”
Phantom Films was established in 2011 by Kashyap, Motwane, Mantena and Bahl. Around the same time, Bahl faced Me Too accusations from a Phantom Films employee. In 2015, Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Entertainment’s film production and distribution business in India joined hands with Phantom Films in a partnership to develop and produce films for the domestic and international market.
Phantom has produced a string of successful movies such as Lootera (2013), Queen (2014), Masaan (2015), Udta Punjab (2016) and Mukkabaaz (2017), among others.
In October 2018, the four partners of Phantom ended their partnership with Kashyap, Bahl and Motwane selling their stake in the firm to Mantena.
Mantena is also on the board of Kwan Talent Management Agency Pvt Ltd, Kwan Securities Pvt Ltd and Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt Ltd. Talent management firm Exceed Entertainment has been managing actor Saif Ali Khan and had also negotiated with Netflix on behalf of the actor for Sacred Games which co-produced by Phantom Films.
Pannu has wrapped up the shoot of sports drama Rashmi Rocket. She is also working on Looop Lapeta, an official adaptation of acclaimed German experimental thriller Run Lola Run (1998) and Rahul Dholakia-directed Shabaash Mithu, based on the life of cricketer Mithali Raj. Her 2019 movie Saand Ki Aankh (2019) was co-produced by Kashyap.
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