Censor bottles booze alert in scenes - Experiment likely to end with Happy New Year after backlash

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By SUMI SUKANYA
  • Published 22.11.14
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New Delhi, Nov. 21: Pop-up warnings against alcohol consumption during a drinking scene might have started and ended with Happy New Year.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had asked for the health warning to be shown in every drinking scene in Shah Rukh Khan’s Diwali release before clearing the film for universal viewing.

Following sharp criticism of the move from within the film industry, board chairperson Leela Samson wrote to all the eight regional offices this month not to ask for such insertions in future releases, sources in the board said.

Happy New Year was the first Indian film to be asked to run health warnings against drinking.

Leela Samson, whose term expired before the BJP government took office and who is expected to be replaced soon, was not available for comment. But a senior board official who requested anonymity said: “Our official stand is that this warning will not be applicable to future releases.”

The official added that there was no new rule against drinking scenes, and that the panel which cleared Happy New Year had invoked a long-standing censor board guideline against glorifying alcohol consumption. It was a “subjective” decision by the panel concerned, the official said.

The Mumbai office — one of the eight regional offices of the censor board — had cleared Happy New Year.

Filmmakers, already unhappy with the mandatory health warnings against tobacco, slammed the alcohol warning.

“These warnings are absurd and regressive,” said Kalpana Lajmi, who directed Rudaali and Daman. “Such warnings are distractions for viewers as cinema is a moving story and not a frozen frame.”

“Does the censor board believe all vices in society happen due to cinema’s influence? Do people go out and kill after watching a murder scene on the screen? We really don’t need such moral guardianship.”

The filmmaker said movie theatres already show “ghastly documentaries” highlighting the dangers of tobacco and alcohol before the screening of films. “So why insist on insertions every time somebody lights up a cigarette or opens a bottle of alcohol on screen?”

The Union health ministry had through a notification in September 2012 made warnings against tobacco mandatory during smoking scenes. The notification also made it compulsory for anti-tobacco health spots, lasting at least 30 seconds, to be shown at the start and in the middle of such films and TV programmes.

Hollywood director Woody Allen had refused to screen his film Blue Jasmine in India last year when asked to insert the warning against tobacco.

The release of Anurag Kashyap’s film Ugly has got delayed by a year because he is resisting the warning. He approached Bombay High Court, but was turned down.

Health activists, however, complain that “glamorisation” of tobacco and liquor on screen has been rising.

“In some cases there can be editorial justification to show scenes where actors are drinking or smoking but they can significantly influence adolescents and young adults,” said Monika Arora, a health researcher at the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi. “Public health cannot be compromised in the name of creative liberty,” she added.

Arora said many film songs in recent years suggest that youths cannot have fun without drinking. “I suspect the alcohol lobby is behind this increasing visibility of alcohol on screen.”