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Bollywood continues to back smoking on screen

The Indian film fraternity is yet to be convinced about banning scenes showing tobacco consumption and the filmmakers continue to express concern over Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss' incessant furore over onscreen smoking.
IANS | By Radhika Bhirani & Arpana, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 31, 2008 05:07 PM IST

The Indian film fraternity is yet to be convinced about banning scenes showing tobacco consumption.

Filmmakers continue to express concern over Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss' incessant furore over onscreen smoking - the minister has been hitting out at the biggest of Bollywood bigwigs like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan on the issue.

Many feel such a ban will curb their creativity and that the government must seek other measures to dissuade people even though, according to some estimates, around 14 percent of students in India consume tobacco.

Heyy Babyy director Sajid Khan told IANS: "I strongly oppose any ban that restricts freedom - do you really think people smoke because film stars smoke on screen and that people drink because we are shown drinking in films? Does terrorism happen because of films? I don't think so.

"Films are meant to entertain, nobody takes them so seriously. I strongly oppose a ban."

Ditto for director Ravi Chopra who said: "A ban definitely affects creativity in the industry. I think it is so stupid. The ministry should first ban smoking in real life and then ask the film industry to do so.

"After all, our characters are inspired by real life where some people smoke and some don't. I think people smoke only because they feel like it and not because any film star does so."

On how a ban affects the creativity of a filmmaker, director Prabhakar Shukla said they often use smoking to depict a character with grey shades.

"When we have to show a dark character, we also need to infuse certain real characteristics, which include smoking and drinking. One doesn't get the real flavour of the character if such characteristics are not shown," he said.

Director Vivek Agnihotri of Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal fame said: "Why should the health ministry be interested in the film industry? More people die in road accidents, bomb blasts and by consuming spurious alcohol and drugs. How come no minister talks about that? I think ministers glorify corruption more than an actor's smoking."

Rohit Jugraj, who directed Superstar and studied medicine before pursuing filmmaking, vehemently denounced the health ministry's stand.

"How does curbing the freedom of an art form help? We are not a Communist state and if they are actually worried, why don't they impose a ban on cigarette and tobacco manufacturers? They will never do so because it is one of the strongest lobbies in India and abroad.

"Cinema imitates life so why don't they just ban life? They should recognise that Bollywood is getting international recognition like other Indian industries.

"The health ministry should focus on revamping and plugging the holes in our primary and secondary healthcare infrastructure, instead of trying to get some cheap brownie points in parliament."

There are some filmmakers who understand the ministry's aim of banning cigarette smoking in films, but the imposition would be in vain.

Veteran director Lekh Tandon said cigarettes are often used in films as a medium to express depression and even if filmmakers refrained from using them, it won't make much of a difference.

"People know smoking is injurious to health but if they want to smoke, let them smoke and let them die. There's no point in banning smoking scenes in films as it would neither reduce nor encourage tobacco intake," Tandon said.

Anurag Basu, who is known for films like Gangster - A Love Story and Life... In A Metro, seconds his opinion.

He narrated how while shooting for Life... In a Metro, he had problems in showing a scene where the actress Kangana Ranaut's character was to smoke. He finally did away with the scene and it didn't affect the flow of the film.

"I completely support a ban but banning smoking in films will hardly make any difference to tobacco consumption in real life. One has to take bigger steps like banning smoking in all public areas, like European countries," Basu suggested.

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