Bollywood, the Hindi part of the Indian film industry, is the largest film producer in India, and one of the largest film production centers in the world. Producing nearly 1000 films, selling 3.1 billion cinema tickets and grossing close to ten billion dollars a year, Bollywood exerts an extreme stronghold on the Indian culture and influences daily the approximate 15 million people who go to see Bollywood films. One such example of the influence of Bollywood culture is tobacco use. India currently has nearly 250 million tobacco users, and each day 55,000 children in India start using tobacco.
Prior to the 1990s, Bollywood portrayed smoking primarily as the vice of villains. The heroes portrayed in classic films were the “poor-but-proud” types. They rescued damsels in distress, performed heroic feats, and beat up gangs of bad guys single-handedly, but never did they risk their image by smoking on screen. Even the villains were classy about the tobacco use, smoking cigars in three-piece suits as they plotted their evil plans. However, the modern day heroes have brought a new tradition of “lighting up a cigarette while performing martial arts stunts.” Influenced by Western cinema such as Hollywood films, the heroes in Bollywood movies now have more suave, attitude, and machismo, all which appears to be complemented by the use of cigarettes. Take the following movies for example :
1970/1980s-Sholay, Coolie, Deewaar
1990s-Baazigar, Darr, Ghulam, Khal Nayak,
2000s-Rang De Basanti, OmKara, No Smoking
The New Smoking ban
Proposed by the Ministry of Health in May 2005, a smoking ban that prohibited films and television shows from displaying actors or actresses smoking went into effect on October 2, 2005. The Indian government felt that films were glamorizing cigarettes, and with nearly 15 million people going to see Bollywood films on a daily basis, Health Minister Anubumani Ramadoss claimed that the ban would “protect the lives of millions of people who could become addicted to smoking under the influence of movies.” Under the smoking ban, smoking scenes in any movie was prohibited, including any old or historical movies where, some argued, smoking was necessary to make the depiction accurate. If producers wished to show a character smoking, the scene would have to be accompanied by a note saying that smoking is injurious to health, along with disclaimers at the beginning and end of films.
The ban received its fair share of support from the Indian public, in addition to support from some Bollywood actors and actresses. Famous actors and actresses like Vivek Oberoi and Urmila Matondkar participated in public service announcements that talked about the benefits of avoiding tobacco, such as Urmila’s advertisement that said, “Every cigarette reduces life by three minutes. Isn’t that scary? If you’re not scared, then you are not brave, you are foolish.” In addition, other actors joined the WHO campaign in India to reduce tobacco use.
“How can such a ban be imposed?” asked a film director, Shabana Azmi.However, the tobacco ban was also highly opposed by most in the film industries. “Films are not made in a vacuum – they are reflections of life. How can a character not be shown as smoking a cigarette if the script so demands?” Many actors, directors, and producers argued that the ban on smoking in film would be a direct impingement on their artistic freedoms, which in turn would be a violation of their democratic rights. Many in Bollywood also believed that their films didn’t directly impact the public because smoking is viewed as a superficial prop, not a possible negative influence.
The Delhi High Court subsequently overturned the ban in January 2009, citing that the ban was a form of censorship that restricted the right to freedom of speech. Given Bollywood’s popularity and size, “the film industry has the power to influence the behavior and attitudes of millions of people, particularly the youth.” For many, Bollywood serves as a cultural reference point for what is considered fashionable, Western, and modern. Because there is such a strong relationship between youth and Bollywood, the actors’ images off and on screen play a crucial in shaping the youths’ minds.
The Power of Shahrukh Khan
For example, the Indian public has emulated Shahrukh Khan, an extremely famous Bollywood actor and chain smoker, for decades. Just online, there are hundreds of images published of him smoking off screen. Regarding Shahrukh Khan’s on screen smoking, from a study done, the data showed that Shahrukh Khan has the highest number of smoking incidents from 1991-2002. In this context, Shahrukh Khan is the perfect target for a celebrity endorsement from tobacco industries. People idolize him and want to mimic what he does, what he wears, how he acts etc. Bollywood is seen as one of the main symbols of modernity among Indian culture. By portraying smoking and tobacco use as part of this modern and upper-class lifestyle, the public is influenced to smoke as well in order to achieve this elite status.
On-screen smoking banned?? No Thankyou!!
So now that the recent smoking ban went into effect Nov 14th 2011, no TV show or film will be allowed to feature cigarette smoking, which means that our hero Shahrukh Khan will not be required to play any roles of cigarette smoking onscreen. Thus, hindi cinema may have to go back to the alternative raunchy song and dance routines to reflect the ‘tough guy’ smoking image. Now the absence of cigarette smoking in movies may be looked upon as a positive since the youth is influenced by actors, and if actors cant smoke onscreen, then we are saving our peoples health. But….cinema is cinema, its about acting….and compromising on the characteristic of the ideal character isn’t cool at all……
Electronic Cigarettes to the rescue!
Heres where Smokefree electronic cigarettes come into the picture…..Shahrukh Khan amongst other characters should be smoking e-cigs on screen because this is how the role of the character can be executed perfectly without compromising on the role of the character. Be it a villain required to smoke e-cigs to project a macho bad gangster guy image, or be it Shahrukh Khan smoking to play the role of a cancer patient, or a guy who smokes because his girlfriend just dumped him, the solution boils down to Smokefree electronic cigarettes. As far as the star struck influence goes, actors smoking Smokefree e-cigarettes also pass on a positive message to the public-to replace ordinary cigarettes with electronic cigarettes, which we all know by now, are the healthiest smoking options in India right now.