Friday, September 30, 2005

Nicotine Dreams

There's a huge debate raging in Bollywood which raises some interesting questions. According to the Times of India the central government has imposed a ban on scenes in Indian cinema which show the characters smoking. The response has been mixed with Mahesh Bhatt challenging the directive in a court of law. Comment rages on the Indian press with people saying that a classic like Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Key Khiladi (The Chess Players) could never have been made if the characters were not allowed to puff away liberally at their hookahs. In fairness to Bollywood, smoking has never been such a big deal and most recent films at any rate refrain from characters lighting up. If anything, smoking has been portrayed negatively as something only bad guys do. Think of the villain lighting up a cigar or cigarette replete in his dark glasses (in an indoor shot) with his trademark chinese silk dressing gown. Or the vamp (the glorious Helen) with her blonde wig tossed back, cigarette in one hand and some garishly coloured liquid in a wine glass. Good guys only smoke if they're intense, confused or just plain off-the-wall. In the 60s and 70s Indian cinema (especially that of the "art house" variety) borrowed from its western counterparts and entire films were shot through a haze of smoke. The commercial hit of the 70s, Hare Krishna Hare Ram (with its drug infested soundtrack) could never have been made. That trend has since diminished as "healthy" actors and actresses have taken centre stage. Smoking doesn't quite fit into their clean living, gym toned, sugary sweet worlds. Put simply, its just not cool any longer.
But does all this need a government ban? First things first. What is the role of cinema in society. Is it to depict an aritificial Utopia or to hold a mirror up to society, warts and all? If cinema shouldn't encourage "bad" things, then surely smoking is only the tip of the iceberg. What about violence, terrorism, rape, alcohol...err chewing gum? Where do you draw the line? Second, there historic authenticity. Would it be possible to make a real film about Mr Jinnah without showing his trademark pipe? Or to show nawabs in 19th century Oudh not smoking a hookah? Third-and I think, most importantly-is the role of the state in relation to art. Should the state be the custodian of its citizens in matters such as these? There is now near global consensus on the harmful effect of cigarette advertising on television, but this argument is circumscribed by the logic that young children have easy access to this medium and may be seduced. Can it be said that young children have access to cinema on television (there are at least four or five cable channels devoted exclusively to Bollywood) and the same logic extends. I think not. The role of the State needs to be defined and minimised. I'd sooner have public pressure to get me to stop smoking-not Big Brother.
Lets personalise things a little. My father smoked till about a decade ago and my childhood memories are peppered with his 555 boxes and cartons. I abstained till I got to college. All my friends smoked and I succumbed to the temptation. Yes, I am an adult and I know it's bad for me. I've read the health warnings, watched the documentaries and coughed and choked my way through it all. So what would make me give up? A health scare- been there done that. Negative social pressure? It works. I don't smoke in front of my parents (though they know) or in houses where the hosts would prefer I didn't. I don't smoke in Clients' offices or in some restaurants. I never smoke where there's a No Smoking sign. Yes, the pressure is mounting and I may give up pretty soon. But I'm not going to give up or resume simply because Bollywood thinks so. But then I'm never the target for any of this. *sigh*


Blogger livinghigh said...

puff de magic dragon?

7:13 pm  
Blogger say what? said...

I used to hate smokers till I found myself in the company of chain smokers.

I never smoked but now when my clothes dont smell tobacco, I feel dizzy. :D

10:31 pm  
Blogger s said...

your three points against this stupid ban are right on the mark.

i think that (given it is something we are in control of, to a certain extent) it should be the least of the governments worries. for starters, art should be allowed to depict reality and besides, like you, i can't see the almost comical villains' smoking really influencing anyone.

if they want to start banning things in film because of the effect on viewers behavior, i'd like to suggest a ban on the hero whistling and humming when he sees a girl he likes because the average desi male seems to think it works in REAL LIFE.

yep, i'd really like to see THAT banned.


no way.

3:25 am  
Anonymous EvilBunnie said...

Youre giving to give up smoking soon.Even if you didnt want to ;0)

11:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anything, I think Salman Khan's constant desire to take his clothes off shoulf be banned.

11:25 am  
Blogger Phantoms and Voices said...

Excepting for the fact that I abhor the idea of censorship of expression, artisitic or otherwise (that allows us to include present day Bollywood) in a free society, I couldn't careless if all of Bollywood was banned!

11:43 pm  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

Just stumbled upon yr blog but sadly i've to rush, but i've bookmarked it. Just wanted u to know, i love Pakistani ppl, have loads of friends there (Gay and otherwise)and loads of awesome things to talk abt!
Shall drop by here later too..

12:56 pm  

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