Welcome the 'Desi' Sheriff
The Governor will swear in Kiran Shantaram, as Sheriff of Mumbai, tomorrow. The man with the illustrious film lineage reveals his plans for Mumbai city.
BY ASHISH VIRMANI
Congratulations on your new appointment. What do you intend to achieve through the new office which you assume tomorrow?
Plenty of things. The most important of which is to ameliorate the feeling of peace and harmony in the city, which is sorely lacking. There are a lot of disturbances and there are political pressures on the ordinary citizen that need to be tackled.
You've said that you would rid the city of pollution and protect the trees. Do you have an outline about how you're going to accomplish that?
The traffic problem needs to be tackled first. That is the primary cause of the pollution in the city. I think Sunil Vaidya is a good traffic commissioner and I'd like to take his help to arrive at some sort of new arrangement wherein the problem of the 230-odd cars that are registered everyday in the city can be channelled. As far as protecting the trees is concerned I'd like to tell the corporation that for every one tree that you cut for a hoarding, see that you plant four.
What service do you intend to offer Bollywood in your new capacity?
I don't like that word. What I would like to do for the Mumbai film industry relates specifically to the single theatre owner. As one of the initiators of the multiplex policy, the government's acceptance of it has given multiplex owners a five year tax holiday. But what about the single theatre owner? Why should single screen owners pay as high a rate as 65 per cent entertainment tax? I would like to see that this rate is brought down to 40 per cent. Besides, I would like to see that the service charge that cinemagoers pay which is presently Re.1 per occupant, goes up to Rs. 5. That way theatre owners would be able to maintain their establishments at an optimum level.
But if the price of the service charge is to be passed onto the consumer wouldn't it be a better idea demanding maintenance subsidies from the government - in order not to discourage viewers from visiting cinemas?
The government will not give any subsidies to the entertainment industry. That word doesn't exist their dictionary for us.
In that case why pass the cost onto the theatre-goer?
I understand that it gets very expensive for a family to go to the movies together nowadays. If you count the price of tickets, of commuting and of snacks during the interval, a family of four could easily spend Rs. 600 per outing. A few rupees more is not going to make a substantial difference.
What else are you going to offer Bollywood when you become sheriff?
I plan to campaign for an exit policy for cinema theatre owners. Cinema owners should be allowed to close down their theatres when their business becomes a losing proposition. Or else let the government give a reduction on entertainment tax and increase the service charge per individual ticket.
Nothing has happened to enhance the industry status of Bollywood. Why are financial institutions and the film industry so scared of each other?
While there are many film industry folks who theoretically know the advantages of corporatisation they haven't really sunk in. While the top notch filmmakers like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Sooraj Barjatya have corporatised or are in the process of corporatisation for the majority of one-off or fly-by-night filmmakers, corporatisation will not make a difference. I don't think financial institutions are afraid on their part because they have laid down clear guidelines. Now it is up to the filmmakers to fall in with those guidelines.
What else do you plan to tackle during your tenure as sheriff?
I would like to have a cultural centre for tourists that connects Mumbai to its Maharashtrian roots. Plus, if possible, a Bollywood shooting set in the likeness of Universal Studios in California where visitors and tourists can come and watch a Bollywood shooting -- or a dummy one, at least. And lastly I would like to see that this city has a reasonable disaster management plan.
A lot of people feel that the Mumbai sheriff is merely a titular head and does no work. Would you like to change this perception?
I was shocked to learn that some of my predecessors had merely warmed their seats and done nothing productive during their tenures. I feel the sheriff has to be active in implementing either his own programmes or the government's. And if he has not been given enough powers it is high time the situation was changed.
You are also involved actively this year in celebrating the V. Shantaram birth centenary, your tribute to your father. Will you be able to get enough time for this from your duties as the sheriff?
I'm just back from Hyderabad where the V. Shantaram film festival was being held and will be in Bangalore on May 4th to kick off its showing there. I have to manage these activities because I belong to the film industry and I can't stop working for it just because I've become sheriff.
What have been the industry reactions to your appointment?
Well, if you'd walked into my office yesterday you'd have mistaken it for a florist's shop (laughs). I had to literally clear away all the flowers in order to restore some semblance of normality. All my friend's are very happy for me -- Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, the Film Federation of India, even film folk from Madras and Kolkata. Yash and Subhash called to say, "We're so happy that our own brother has become sheriff and we have no doubt that you'll take the film industry closer to the government."
As a resident of Peddar Road, first you sided with the Peddar Road Resident's Association (PRRA) and the Mangeshkar sisters in insisting that no flyover be built. But later you ditched the Mangeshkar sisters. How come?
I'm one of the oldest residents of Peddar Road in that my father and mother lived there for sixty years and I continue staying at that residence. I went with Lataji and Ashaji to the Government of Maharashtra because we had the impression that the flyover would obstruct our interests and living conditions. But I studied the technicalities of the project for two and a half months at the end of which I was convinced that no such thing would happen.
You also said on record that the PRRA had "misled" the Mangeshkar sisters about the flyover. What did you mean?
I meant that they (Asha and Lata) had not been given a proper picture about the technicality of the flyover. As creative artistes they hadn't understood the technical side properly.
So what is your position now?
As citizens of Mumbai we can't stop development or other people staying in this city. We're not the only three people in the city. There are thousands and lakhs of people in the city. We can't stop their progress. If the Mangeshkar sisters can be convinced, then they will not oppose the project. The sisters are nice human beings and ultimately they are Maharashtrians.