March 28, 2020
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The Show Is Over

But organiser Wizcraft now has to account for every paise

The Show Is Over

LONG after Michael Jackson stopped oozing out of everyone’s ears, organiser Wizcraft still hasn’t heard the last of him. Acting on a social worker’s petition, the Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court has impounded all proceeds, movable and immovable assets of the entertainment agency and its bosses. Now it’s being alleged that figures are being fudged to evade possible taxation—though the show was exempt from entertainment tax by the Shiv Sena government, the Mumbai High Court had reopened the issue in response to a consumer group’s petition.

With alarming urgency, former tall claims are being cut down to size and everyone is now in a hurry to subtly write off the "show of the decade". "MJ was a market mover, but you can’t equate the success of a quality production with the returns at the box-office," says Sabbas Joseph, director, Wiz-craft. In short, the company now claims it made losses of "around Rs 4 to 5 crore", instead of the gains that were expected. It was Rs 4 crore that Wizcraft was to pay Raj Thackeray’s Shiv Udyog Sena, registered as a charity organisation, as per the original deed—which was blocked by the court.

To buttress its claim, Wizcraft is citing major organisational goof-ups and pointing fingers at the police for making it a "family affair". Out of the total 33,350 people present at the concert, they say only 16,200 were bonafide ticket-holders. The rest of the Jacko junket apparently comprised 8,400 complimentary ticket-holders; 6,000 police personnel and authorities; and vendors, staff, artistes, production crew and support teams summing up roughly 2,750. "We had earmarked only 2,500 tickets as complimentary but what happened was out of our control. The backstage emergency gate was a free-for-all for police families. Security at the Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 ticket enclosure was maintained but the VIP and VVIP enclosures (Rs 5,000-Rs 15,000) were used by the cops. And full tickets as well as counterfoils were recycled as the evening progressed," say the promoters.

The police are not taking kindly to the accusations. "The security was very tight and Wizcraft had its own securitymen checking tickets along with the police," says Dr Satyapal Singh, deputy commissioner of police, Zone VII. Swran Salaria, managing director, Trig Detectives Pvt Ltd, whose personnel too were deployed to keep gatecrashers out. "The attendance wasn’t as expected, but to attribute that to security lapses isn’t fair. There were a minimum of three stringent checks before one could get into the main enclosure."

 The promoters admit to an oversight. "Not enough time for ticket sales," says Joseph. "Also, phone bookings didn’t click because of limited banking hours. Though bookings were made, tickets weren’t eventually picked up. Tickets were sold at the official counters even before the show."

 A total 16,200 tickets were sold through ANZ Grindlays, Bank of Baroda, Citibank, Stanchart, the Indian Express Classifieds counter, Hotel Metro Palace, discotheque J49 and cash counters. The total amount collected, says Wizcraft, is Rs 4,45,43,000. If all 50,000 tickets worth about Rs 18 crore had been sold, the entertainment tax would have worked out to Rs 11 crore. "If this was not waived to begin with, we wouldn’t have held the show. Based on the tickets sold, the tax can’t be over Rs 2 crore," says Joseph

Not many believe him though. "The show was well-attended," says Sanjay Chahande, suburban district collector. "News and TV coverage proves that." And so duplicate ticket sales and tax evasion through deflating sales isn’t being ruled out. Dismissing media figures as exaggerated, Joseph asserts: "When the PWD and the police certify the total capacity of the stadium as 40,641, how can we show otherwise?"

 The other party that can’t be having too good an aftertaste is the Sena. The show has generated negative hype. Besides, even if the court clears the fund transfer, Wizcraft’s "losses" can’t be good news. "Raj Thackeray is being very supportive but Rs 50 lakh isn’t Rs 4 crore," say Wizcraft sources. The Shiv Udyog Sena is now relying on Lata Mangeshkar to fill its coffers. As for Wizcraft, it has challenged the high court order. Its directors have to file in their returns but they are awaiting documents seized by the income-tax department. If they don’t moonwalk through this one, Wizcraft would be what MJ made one night in Mumbai—HIStory! 

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