Kerala At 6.30 a.m., on July 22, there was a pin-drop silence outside two luxurious bungalows in Kochi; one in Thevara, and the other in Panampilly Nagar. Suddenly, a few cars braked to a stop. Several nondescript-looking men stepped out, with files in their hands.
Then the senior-most Income Tax officer rang the doorbell, simultaneously, in both houses, as well as in offices in Chennai, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram. And the sound reverberated through the state within hours. Because the people who were being raided were two of Kerala’s enduring superstars: Mammooty and Mohanlal.
The two have been above reproach. As one hit film followed another, the media fawned over them. So these raids were the first knocks on their reputation in 30 years. And it did have an effect on the fans. Bangalore-based professional Deepak Thomas says he was not surprised. "Mammooty and Mohanlal are like most rich people," he says. "They want to evade taxes as much as possible."
But there are supporters too. Nisam Vallakkavadu, the state general secretary of the All Kerala Mammootty Fans Welfare Association, says the raids on Bollywood stars happen all the time. "What is the big fuss?" he asks. "Has the media focused on the fact that last year Mammootty paid Rs 1.3 crore as taxes? Why cannot the IT department focus on the politicians who hoard crores of rupees in Swiss banks and are never caught?"
It is six months now, and both the stars have released films, which have done reasonably well. But their demi-god image has been dented. Is it retribution for too many years of continued success? Will the tax authorities be able to nail them in court? Only time will tell.