There is finally some good news for the corona-hit entertainment industry. In its budget for 2021-22, the Punjab government has exempted it from taxes for the coming fiscal year.
The pandemic has been ruthless and ruinous. It has spread its destructive tentacles far and wide, but the entertainment sector has been the worst affected. Major leviathans, like the Hollywood and the Indian film industry, have dropped to their knees, not knowing what to do. Cinemas have been shut down and there have been other performances, especially live ones. Theatres have been closed due to social distancing requirements and the entire world seems to have collapse. People involved with these sectors have been gradually rendered jobless. In the beginning, there was still hope of it ending soon. However, weeks of closure have given way months and years. The impact of has been felt on an ever larger scale. The initial optimism and the hope of it being a storm that will blow over quickly, have been replaced by a grim reality of trench warfare.
The economy started suffering as more and more sectors were either closed down, or were forced to change their mode of operation by exploring the possibility of a digital switchover.
Entertainment tax has been something the artistes and the entrepreneurs associated with the sector have long been uncomfortable with. It is extractive and has substantially pulled down creative activities. For years, the government and the powers that be have been blowing the trumpet of a softer image of the country as a counterfoil to the state that supported non-state actors, extremists and those advocating violence. The response has not been even-handed. Now with even the highest office admitting to such policies, albeit in the past, of supporting these activities.
It is expected that after the first step of providing relief to the sector, more wholesome activity will be started so that the infrastructure is used to its full potential.
Recently at a film festival held in Karachi, one of the leading representatives of the current government held forth on the great plans that the government has for raising the cultural profile of the country. Major steps that have been taken to this end. One knows through experience that there is little to no follow up to the rhetoric and things do not materialise in tangible terms.
The festival that was held in Karachi due to the pandemic was just about talk, talk and talk. However, it is all understandable, given the circumstances. As things inch back to normalcy, the thrust for promoting our cultural profile will become more dramatically evident.
In the past, some efforts were made to develop the infrastructure. However, no budget allocation was made due to financial constraints. The result has been that either the infrastructure is not used to its full potential or that it is only being maintained as a physical showcase. In the end, it is no better than an employment exchange that serves the purposes of offering jobs to a few. We all know that the governments, especially elected ones, are under tremendous pressure to provide jobs to the people. So, a major portion of the public sector expenditure is allocated with this stated point in view. The people, some deserving, some not so deserving, get jobs. The institution is supposed to raise its own resources but it personnel are not trained for this.
It is expected that after the first step of providing relief to the sector, more wholesome activity will be started. The infrastructure should be exploited to its full potential. It appears unfortunately that the infrastructure is there merely to provide a few jobs and that this has become the primarily reason for its existence and perpetuation.
The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore