India's multibillion rupee film industry, which has been fuming over a ban on smoking scenes in films, now has reason to smile. The health ministry is ready to allow the depiction of iconic characters with their favourite poison stick.
So British statesman Winston Churchill and fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who cannot be imagined without their cigars and pipes, can now be shown smoking in new films - though with a warning.
"Characters like Churchill and Sherlock Holmes can smoke on screen. People know about them and their on-screen smoking won't influence the audience behaviour much," a senior health ministry official told IANS.
"This will be made public next month," the official added.
The health ministry had banned smoking in films but director Mahesh Bhatt moved court against the government decision. The case has been pending in the Delhi High Court for the last two years. The Delhi High Court is going to hear the case in the third week of November.
Earlier, the ministry was completely against any smoking scenes in any movie. It had said all old movies with such scenes would have to be accompanied with a note saying the habit is injurious to health, and new films with such depictions could not be made at all.
But now it has made a concession. The ministry authorities said if it was essential to show a character smoking, the producer would have to follow rules.
"If the scripts cannot do away with such a character, then the producer needs to write on the screen that smoking is injurious to health. The movies must carry a disclaimer and warning message in the beginning and end of the film," the official said.
"After the smoking ban in public places, the ministry wants to curb on-screen smoking but with less fuss. The film fraternity is worried about creative freedom. But what about social responsibility?" the official asked.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has been reiterating that on-screen smoking is accountable for over 60 percent new smokers. He has appealed to actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan not to smoke in films.
"They are big stars and as celebrities their in-film action is influencing youngsters' minds. I am not interfering in their personal life but appealing as the health minister of the country," Ramadoss had told IANS earlier.
Every year, nearly one million people die of tobacco-related diseases. The government has banned smoking in public places from October 2 and is making graphic health warnings on all tobacco packets a must from December 1.
Government estimates say though the tobacco industry brings a revenue of Rs 270 billion to the country every year, the treatment cost of the disease burden is at least Rs 300 billion.