Bollywood is encouraging youngsters to smoke. At least that’s what a survey, conducted by two health-related NGOs, has revealed. The survey states that 52 per cent of youth who take up smoking do so due to the influence of regional cinema and Bollywood. This comes close on the heels of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish coming under fire for showing Aishwarya Rai Bachchan lighting up.
While the two NGOs — the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) India and the Voluntary Health Association of Goa (VHAG) — are unabashedly blaming Bollywood, filmmakers argue that banning smoking scenes would stifle ‘creative freedom.’
“What is more important? The creative freedom of the film industry or the destruction of 114 lives every hour from tobacco related diseases? Look at Guzaarish — the scene was unnecessary,” said Shekhar Salkar, general secretary, NOTE-India. The film’s producers, UTV Productions, defended, “it was a creative requirement of the script.”
Rajkumar Gupta’s upcoming film, No One Killed Jessica, which shows Rani Mukherji puffing away, is facing flak, too. But, Gupta has his argument ready. “Rani smoking in the movie is the demand of her character and has nothing do do with glorifying smoking.” Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt agrees: “Movies do have an influence on people, especially youngsters, but blaming Bollywood is not the solution.”
In the past, iconic films such as Devdas and Chameli have showed the film’s lead characters smoking. But, Anupama Chopra, film critic, maintains, “I won’t deny that films do glorify smoking, (but) I would never advocate censorship. It’s not fair.”
1 Three out of four Indian films show stars smoking n Youngsters are 16 times more likely to think positively about smoking if they see celebrities doing it
2 Teenagers who watch Bollywood characters smoke are 3 times as likely to do so themselves
3 It is estimated that 80% of the tobacco-related deaths in the next ten years will occur in India and China n 6% of the films produced between 1991 and 2002 show tobacco use. *As per a survey by the world health organisation
In a trailer of No One Killed Jessica, Rani Mukherji is seen smoking. She plays a headstrong journalist who takes on the system during the murder trial of Jessica Lal, and says she has seen several women journalists smoke.
“Since I play a journalist, you guys from the media can’t prosecute me,” she jokes. NGOs that discourage smoking aren’t amused by her argument though. “Letters have been sent out to the Health Ministry and the Censor Board to cut these scenes, as studies show the impressionable youth look up to these actors,” says Dr Monica Arora of HRIDAY, a health organisation.