New Delhi, Sept. 4: A smouldering Kareena Kapoor will have to compete with the “killer” looks of a scrawl every time she lights up in Heroine.
A statutory warning saying “smoking kills” will have to appear on the screen whenever a character smokes on screen, the Centre today told the Supreme Court.
The film industry, which has challenged the government’s proposed new rules, feels that movie-goers will be distracted by the static statutory warning. But the government is adamant on implementing it. The rules communicated by the information and broadcasting ministry on behalf of the health ministry to the Central Board of Film Certification or the censor board will now be notified.
The government told the Supreme Court today that it was notifying the rules that would allow films to incorporate smoking scenes with the statutory warnings alongside. The new rules advise filmmakers to give a 20-second anti-smoking message approved by the health ministry — with a voice-over of one of the actors seen smoking in the film — to be displayed at the beginning and after the intermission for 15 seconds.
Besides, the static anti-smoking message will have to be displayed for the duration of the smoking scene in the film. The new rules also provide for U/A certification for movies that contain smoking scenes. These rules have already been challenged in Delhi High Court by UTV, the producers of Heroine, in which Kareena lights up in many frames. Heroine releases on September 21.
The next high court hearing is scheduled for September 10. The producers feel that the message that would have to be displayed every time a character smokes would distract viewers from the artistic merit of the scene.
Undeterred by these rules being challenged in Delhi High Court, the government has told the Supreme Court that it would notify them.
Smoking scenes will, however, not be permitted in TV promos, trailers and advertisements.
The top court, after hearing Union counsel V. Shekhar, gave the government time till September 20 to formally notify the rules. These rules will set the stage for a new round of tussle between the film industry and the government.
In 2003, the government had enacted the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Regulation Act. The following year, the government tried to bring in rules that banned tobacco promotion and advertising in the media. In 2005, taking note of the rise in the incidence of on-screen smoking, the government imposed a blanket ban on showing any tobacco products. Smoking scenes were to be banned in new films and old films were supposed to carry statutory warnings.
Film producer and director Mahesh Bhattt challenged the rules in the high court and won. The high court in 2009 struck down the rules as a violation of the right to creative expression of the movie-maker, an intrinsic part of the right to free speech.
The government challenged the high court order in the top court, saying that it was entitled to place reasonable restrictions on smoking in the interests of public health.
While the appeal was pending, the government announced that it would notify fresh rules on October 27, 2011. This were put off indefinitely to facilitate consultations with all stakeholders.
The notification, which was to come into effect from November 14, 2011, made it mandatory for all new movies that have scenes showing smoking or tobacco use to come up with valid explanations.