Friday, June 10, 2005

Smoking mana hai

There's a huge debate going on about the proposed ban on smoking on-screen in Bollywood films. While I agree there is a freedom of choice issue involved, one has to also realise that tobacco marketers have methodically used films to circumvent the ban on advertising tobacco through practically all other mediums.

I researched this for an article titled 'Smokescreen' which was published last October in Businessworld.

When all other promotional avenues dry up, there remains a potent 'P' in the tobacco company's arsenal: the People factor. Who is smoking - and how cool that person is perceived to be - is the Invisible Salesman still in operation. Smoking in movies has been linked to adolescents trying their first cigarette, according to a new study by a team from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School. As a 1989 Philip Morris marketing plan noted: "We believe that most of the strong, positive images for cigarettes and smoking are created by cinema and television."

There is documented evidence of the company paying to get Marlboros placed in Superman II and a host of other popular Hollywood films. When the US Congress threatened to make product placement illegal, the tobacco industry pleaded 'self regulation' and pay-offs officially stopped. But placements didn't. In fact, 82 per cent of the top 10 grossing PG-13 films each week in theatres from May 2002 to May 2003 included tobacco.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study of tobacco exposure in Bollywood films conducted last year revealed similarly shocking figures. The research, conducted by Ambika Srivastava, president, Strategic Mediawork, concluded that 76 per cent of top-rated Hindi films portray smoking as 'the cool thing to do'. It's not just villains and vamps who smoke: today, 50 per cent of tobacco incidents are depicted by the 'good' characters. And increasingly, smoking is being used to demonstrate an assertive and independent mindset.

Documentation of money changing hands in India is unavailable, but last year's Quentin Tarantino-inspired Kaante certainly merits investigation. "Collar ko thoda sa oopar chadha ke, cigarette ke dhuaein ka chhalla bana ke..." goes a song from the film, which became far more popular than the film itself. Noting these guerilla tactics, the WHO decided to focus on the entertainment, films and sports industries on World No Tobacco Day last year.

Actor Vivek Oberoi, who has smoked in both good guy and bad guy roles, decided to 'kick the habit' onscreen and appeared in a series of anti-smoking ad films last year. However, Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Sunjay Dutt are all chain smokers, and it is a known fact that the actor/director who smokes at home is more likely to smoke in public and light up in movies.

So yes, you can debate the issue to death but ... there may be a case for the on-screen ban. It's more easily enforcable than trying to restrict sale of cigarettes near schools and colleges (who's to check that anyways!!)

Bottomline: Directors and actors will just have to get more creative. A stick in hand won's be a code-prop to signify gangster or vamp.


  1. Well. You do have a point in case. But if we are looking at tobacco users, then we certainly are ignoring that there are other forms of tobacco consumption.. being a nice guy, i am not too aware of the "brand" of other tobacco products though there are people, who consume it from road side tea stalls and the like. I can say that atleast our heroes do not depict such kind of consumption. Or maybe the movie should start off saying, none of the acts in the movie should be imitated including any acts of smoking. Will that be a solution at all ? Just wondering. coz as we all know, in every cigarette packet its written - Smoking Is Injurious To Health !

  2. No doubt smoking is often bad doesnt matter whether you are an actor or normal human.But sure when you zip up channels and see ppl whom you love n like b coz their awesome elan,especially younger ones like to ape it.The ban may come like true in coming time but sure n certain that such type of of ban never goin to help what our gov. wants..soo plzz have some other way too....dear martinets before its too late!!

  3. sure,you write well--but must your blog enteries carry the best parts of your already published articles--as far as smoking on screen goes,impose the bas on tv serials too-let there not be pseudo ads of xyz alcohol company selling apple juice and let them not sponsor awards/sports tournaments,etc.--they're getting more publicity this way

  4. So what's next. The word tobacco and smoking to be removed from general usage? Are you going to blur out parts of your blog post on smoking? This is a ridiculous idea that something like a cigarette on the screen can influence people to smoke. I guess the indian government thinks that their citizens are such idiots that they can't take responsibility for themselves. This is the same old BS argument that was used here in america about game violence. Monkey see monkey do never works because we are NOT monkeys. If the parents can't be bothered enough to actually teach their kids why they shouldn't ever smoke why are we placing responsibility on others?
    I'm not saying that there's any possible way that it would be paramount for a filmmaker to have cigarettes in his film but this form of orwellian authority over art forms is idiotic if not dangerous. Compromising with the censors is like smoking a cigarette. You accept a little bit of cancer and trust it not to spread.
    It is not the artist's responsibility to control what children have access to, but the parents. The parents are responsible for deciding what is appropriate and what is not for their children. Parents should be allowed to excercise their responsibility without outside interference (censors).
    Useless Parliament discussions, lazy parents and opportunistic policitians keep bringing the question of censorship to use as a scapegoat to hide their own failures.
    Its ridiculous to blame a sneak peek of a breast, or a suggestive song on the screen as the "worm that is eating at the core of this great society" or to use arguments like "if only we could ban these filthy images from our children our problems would be solved".
    Damn. I should've just blogged about this.

  5. the last line of the previous comment makes more sense than most things

  6. there are many ape-able and visibly cool negative expressions which need to be shown in cinema. If all of them are banned, then the very meaning of cinema is diluted. It's just like saying, negative-and-influenceable portrayals in cinema should be banned.

  7. Excellent post and correct views. Somehow in India, people tend to stretch freedom of choice. Some people claim that Govt. cannot decide everything for them. But they fail to realize that it already has, and they abide by it, except when they don't like it. After all, what is Law & Order in first place? Their might be some people who say that murdering someone is personal choice and Govt. should not interfere! Another fallacy, opponent of such arguments do is "single point projection". Like AnangBhai above did. You go on saying that today govt ban tobacco on screen tomorrow it will do that next day that and so on...Well govt, wouldn't do whatever all you projected from single instance. And if it does, cry foul then, not now.

  8. Anonymous2:52 PM

    After banning smoking next will be use of drugs,then sipping of whisky then rape.Then the villains wont be seen in dance bars onscreen .Already there's a ban which exists offscreen.I guess the govt is trying create a new race of perfect human beings while making a fools of themselves.
    Smoking is an addiction.Addiction is a personal problem which needs to be taken care of .I dont think enticing a person through movies leads to chain smoking.Our Politicians a bunch of jokers need a stupid agenda now and then .I guess they need some intellectual thinking which seems to be absent in their brains

  9. Anonymous9:30 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Anonymous9:33 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. U hav just been blogrolled

  12. Anonymous12:49 PM

    i guess this kind of rational(or irrational) logic can lead only to talibinisation - which the so called moral brigade(Politicians,Police,Judiciary - which incidentally are the primary patrons of abuse) is trying to impose on the people - i guess there should be meaningful restrictions instead of censor- which isnt good to build a matured democracy

    1. giving A cerificate for movies with smoking scenes
    2. no posters
    3. ban in FTA channels during primetime etc

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  14. good one....but don't you think that banning smoking scenes in films is an inefficient step 'coz there are several youths who are not film buffs yet they smoke..... cognisance is necessaryd and should be done in primary stages... however tall a tree is you still water its roots...right!The awareness about the hazards of drugs,alcohol,smoking and such adolescent addicions has to begin at school level ...rather it should be given a sufficient coverage...if the question is that is there a better medium of awareness than the television or the cinema...well the awareness is not created by banning the scenes or the filmes in totality rather it can be done if the concerned actor who is shown smoking in the film and the creative director spare five min. of their valuable filmi time and spread the word abt. the uncoolness of cancer and death.

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