The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Now the good guys also puff away in Bollywood

New Delhi/London, Feb. 17 (PTI): Smoking is no longer the domain of the bad guy of Indian cinema with as many as 50 per cent of “heroes” shown using tobacco, according to a study to be presented tomorrow at a seminar in Geneva.

The study, Bollywood, victim or ally: the study on portrayal of tobacco in Indian cinema, carried out for the World Health Organisation by an Indian researcher, analyses 440 films released between 1991 and 2002, WHO sources said.

The study, part of a new international campaign to cut smoking deaths by targeting the world’s film industries, would be presented along with another by a California-based researcher on the use of tobacco in Hollywood movies, the sources said.

The study looks at the films, mainly Hindi but also tamil and Telugu, to analyse the types of tobacco use, situation and location, and type of characters using the stuff.

It says that while earlier only bad guys were shown smoking in the movies, now 50 per cent of good guys are also lighting up. In fact, three out of four films produced in the last decade have stars smoking.

Another important finding is that the number of episodes in which people are shown smoking has increased and that apart from releasing stress, people are shown to smoke for asserting their independence.

After group discussions in Delhi and Mumbai, the study found that films heavily influence lifestyles of young people. Teenagers who watch Bollywood characters smoke are three times as likely to do so themselves, the study says. Even things like what is smoked and how to hold a cigarette are influenced by movies, the WHO sources added.

Ambika Srivastava, who conducted the WHO research, found that half of India’s leading stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Ajay Devgan and Jackie Shroff, had smoked on screen. “The youth thought it was a very cool thing to do. The implication of that is huge,” she said.

Srivastava said Bollywood has slipped under the proposed controls the Indian government has said it will legislate later this year. “The WHO and countries across the world are looking at bans on tobacco advertising but the (film) industry finds ways of getting around it,” she said.

Bollywood produces 800 films a year which are watched by 15 million people every day. A third of Indian television programming is based on Bollywood movies, which are also widely watched in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

WHO sources said the organisation was planning to invite people from the entertainment industry, both in India and abroad, to stop promoting a product that kills every second regular user. “In India, we will also ask for a display of a ‘no pay certificate’ at the end of a movie, certifying that no money or anything of value has been accepted from any tobacco company,” they said.

“We also want that before a film showing tobacco use, strong anti-tobacco advertisements should be run in the theatres,” they added.

An estimated three million people die every year from tobacco-related causes, a third of them in India. Although several Indian states have banned smoking in public places, enforcement has been difficult.

But the film industry in Mumbai is unlikely to react well to the survey. Leading filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was quoted in the survey as saying that tobacco companies, not movie stars, were to blame.

“If you feel the Indian star smoking on screen is responsible for the consumption of tobacco on the streets of India and south Asia, why don’t you go for the jugular and blow off these tobacco manufacturing companies'” he asked.

“When crime increases, when rape increases, the easiest people to blame are the movie stars. How long can you blame the virtual world for your real problems'”

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