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Smoke, and spark legal fire
- Shah Rukh served notice for lighting up in ‘public’
Shah Rukh Khan smokes during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. Picture by Prem Singh

Mumbai, Oct. 26: When Konkona Sen Sharma walked in at the recent Lakme Fashion Week with a cigarette in hand, she had seemed oblivious of the camera crew around her.

Today, she might care to send them a thank-you note for not airing on national TV how she had flouted the ban on smoking in public places.

Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t been so lucky. An NGO has sent him a legal notice for smoking at two recent events — the Twenty20 international in Mumbai and the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Delhi. The actor has 15 days to reply or face a lawsuit.

“Shah Rukh broke the law twice in seven days. He should be taught a lesson,” said Dr Shekhar Salkar, general secretary of the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (Note), which sent the notice.

“At the cricket match he was smoking in the air-conditioned enclosure. It was aired on Doordarshan. During the summit he smoked on the dais.”

The legal notice has been issued under a 2003 law, violation of which only leads to a fine of Rs 200. But Salkar said the principle was the thing.

“Celebrities should understand that what they do in public is aped by hundreds of people. In a way (it amounts to) endorsing smoking.”

Research shows children are heavily influenced by their screen idols in lifestyle choices. In a recent study on 1,265 Mumbai schoolchildren between 12 and 16 years, over 65 per cent felt Shah Rukh looked cool smoking in Swades and said they wanted to be like him. Their favourite actress was Rani Mukherjee, who has smoked in films such as Bunty Aur Babli.

The film industry isn’t amused by the spurt in activists targeting actors. Film-maker Kunal Kohli said, “Most celebrities are soft targets. The NGOs use them to gain mileage for their cause. Even in Aamir Khan’s case, when he was accused of dishonouring the national flag, it was a blatant attempt to get publicity.”

An Indore court this week issued a non-bailable warrant against Aamir after an advocate complained that the organisers of a function the actor had attended had failed to take the flag down before sunset.

In January 2006, Note had served a notice to Amitabh Bachchan because posters of Family showed him smoking. The actor has issued an apology and the case is still pending in court.

“The courts should throw out this kind of public interest litigation – there are more important issues that need the courts’ time,” said adman Prahlad Kakkar.

“This is a free society, all of us have the right to choose what we do with our lives,” said film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, who had moved Delhi High Court to stop the government from banning onscreen smoking in 2005.

Bollywood has often been criticised for portraying characters blowing smoke on celluloid, but Anurag Kahsyap’s latest flick No Smoking, which released today, makes a strong statement against smoking. Of course, it shows the lead character smoking.

Booze bedlam

If cigarette fumes engulfed SRK, former actress Roja came under fire over drinking – but not her own.

Roja, now the Telugu Desam women’s wing president, provoked protests and effigy-burning in Andhra Pradesh by calling Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao a “drunkard”.

She told an all-party meeting, organised by an NGO campaigning against liquor, that the Samiti had no right to criticise the previous Telugu Desam government for promoting liquor shops. “Your leader drinks till late in the night and wakes up around noon every day,” she said.

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