The Income Tax Department on Wednesday raided the homes and offices of Bollywood actor Taapsee Pannu and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap as well as his partners who launched the now shuttered production house Phantom Films, officials said.
The searches, part of a tax evasion probe against Phantom Films and carried out across 30 locations in Mumbai and Pune, also covered Reliance Entertainment group CEO Shibhasish Sarkar and some executives of celebrity and talent management companies KWAN and Exceed, they said.
The raids began in the morning and are expected to be continue till late night.
Documents and computer peripherals have been recovered from various premises, officials said.
Pannu and Kashyap, both known to be outspoken in their views on a range of issues, are shooting in Pune and are understood to have been questioned by the tax sleuths as part of the preliminary questioning that takes place during raids.
The others searched include some Phantom Films production house employees, which was dissolved in 2018, and its then promoters Kashyap, director-producer Vikramaditya Motwane, producer Vikas Bahl and producer-distributor Madhu Mantena.
Tax department sources said some inter-linked transactions between the entities searched are under the scanner of the department.
The raids, they added, are aimed at gathering more evidence to further probe tax evasion allegations against them.
The business transactions of films made under the banner of Phantom Films are also being probed, the sources said.
The searches against Mantena are also being carried out in context of his links with KWAN, of which he is a co-promoter.
While Kwan's client list includes Deepika Padukone, Exceed manages Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha among others.
Kashyap and Pannu, who worked together in the 2018 film Manmarziyaan, are now collaborating in the upcoming film Dobaara.
Responding to a question at a press conference in Delhi, Union minister Prakash Javadekar rejected allegations that the raids against Kashyap and Pannu were linked to their comments, which are seen at times critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"This is too much," he said to the question.
"Probe agencies undertake investigations based on credible information and the matter later goes to courts as well," he added.
In Maharashtra, the debate intensified with ruling allies Congress and Nationalist Congress Party criticising the raids and terming them an attempt to suppress the voices of those who speak against the Narendra Modi-led government.
"Central agencies like ED, CBI, and Income Tax are being used to target those who take an anti-government stand and speak against the policies of the regime," state minister and NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik told reporters in Mumbai.
"The premises of Anurag Kashyap and Pannu have been raided. Both were raising their voices against the Modi government," he said.
His cabinet colleague Ashok Chavan of the Congress said the raids are the Centre's way to put pressure on people who put forth 'facts' so they do not speak up.
While the raids attracted a lot of attention on social media platforms, most of Bollywood was quiet, except for Swara Bhaskar and Anubhav Sinha who posted tweets appreciating Kashyap and Pannu.
'Appreciation tweet for @anuragkashyap72 who has been a cinematic trailblazer, a teacher and mentor of talent and a man with rare candour and a brave heart ! More power to you Anurag.
'Appreciation tweet for @taapsee who is an amazing girl with courage and conviction that is rare to see now days.. Stand strong warrior!' Bhaskar tweeted.
'Kashyap and Taapsee I love you both. Just,' tweeted Sinha, who worked with Pannu in Thappad and is a close fried of Kashyap.
Pannu's last tweet was on March 1, when she spoke on the Supreme Court asking a man accused of repeated rape whether he was willing to marry the woman.
When the court was told he is already married, he was asked to seek regular bail from the concerned court.
The 33-year-old actor, who has made a name for herself in films such as Pink, Thappad and Badla, put out a strong worded post on the matter.
Kashyap, who had visited JNU and Shaheen Bagh during the anti-CAA protests last year and is known to be equally outspoken on a range of issues, has been quiet on Twitter in recent times except for occasionally retweeting others.
The 48-year-old, one of the most prominent new directors in Hindi cinema, is the man behind Black Friday, Dev D and the two-part crime saga Gangs of Wasseypur.
Founded in 2011, his production house Phantom Films produced films such as Lootera, Queen, Ugly, NH 10, Masaan and Udta Punjab.
However, it was disbanded seven years later.
Kashyap later launched a new production company called Good Bad Films while Motwane launched Andolan Films.