Tamil actor Vishal has clarified that there was no tax raid at his production house, Vishal Film Factory, on Monday. “Officials came to my office for an assessment of tax deducted at source,” he told Scroll.in. “This had nothing to do with the Goods and Services Tax and it was not a raid. They came to the office when there was nobody there. We were shooting for Sandakozhi.

On Monday, several news publications, including Scroll.in, reported that a team from the Directorate General of Goods and Service Tax Intelligence Agency had conducted a raid at the actor’s office in Chennai. Vishal is both general secretary of an actors association called the Nadigar Sangam as well as the president of the Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council. Later that evening, the directorate issued a press release denying that it had carried out such an action.

The visit of the Income Tax department to Vishal’s production house came a day after Vishal criticised Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party Leader H Raja. Raja was among the BJP leaders who took offence to some scenes in the film Mersal, which was released over the weekend, because it contains a sequence criticising the recently launched Goods and Services Tax. The BJP claimed that the film, starring the actor Vijay, insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre’s policies.

But Raja opened himself to controversy when he told a Tamil television news channel that he had watched bits of the film on the internet, even though the film is yet to be officially released online. Vishal immediately accused the BJP leader of encouraging piracy.

Asked about the timing of the visit of the Income Tax department to his office and whether he feels targeted for criticising a BJP leader, Vishal simply said, “No idea.”

He did, however, add that the right of filmmakers to express themselves will thrive despite the recurring attempts to stifle it. “It has become difficult to make and release a film nowadays,” he said. “We as filmmakers have a responsibility towards our audience to say what we feel about things happening in our society and country.”

He added: “Freedom of expression has to thrive and cannot be under threat by particular outfits or fringe groups just because it doesn’t favour them or in a way, intimidates them.”

Vishal added that the producers council and the film industry stands by the producers of Mersal, who have said that they will not delete the scenes that have irked the BJP.

Fighting piracy and regulating the Tamil film industry

Ever since he took over as the president of the producers council in April, Vishal has been trying to tackle a range of challenges facing the industry, from piracy to regulating ticket prices. “My focus is to end piracy and bring about transparency in general in the industry,” he said. “The difficulty is when people like H Raja say that they themselves have watched a film online when it is still running in theatres. Still, the fight against piracy will continue. Probably by next year, we will see some results.”

He added that the film industry needs to be regulated. “We need transparency,” the actor said. “We need to know what is our collection on paper. There is so much turnover and we cannot even avail of bank facilities. To regulate something which has not been regulated for so long will take time. I’m on it one after the other.”

Vishal has also urging the authorities to put the film industry under the lowest slab of the recently introduced the Goods and Services Tax. It now attracts the highest rate – 28%. “All the industries from the south and the north will be making a joint representation to the finance ministry and the prime minster to request them to bring the GST rate for films down to the lowest slab,” he said. “Five per cent would be ideal.”