Filmmakers must justify smoking scenes

MUMBAI: Actors can light up on screen but it’s going to be a drag. They will have to, before their film ends, mouth a 30-second-long dialogue underlining health risks associated with smoking.

This is one of the new directives in the amended law that governs advertising and marketing of tobacco products and depiction on screen.

Keira Knightley smoking

Keira Knightley smoking on screen

After Bollywood’s persistent pleas about creative license, lawmakers seem to have moved away from an all-out ban on puffing and instead preferred a deterrent. For instance, a U/A certification is another price to pay for including a smoking scene. The rules say theatre owners must blur out scenes in old movies and shows, so if one were to watch ‘Casablanca’ in a theatre, Humphrey Bogart with a cigarette dangling from his lips would be made hazy. So would Dev Anand in ‘Jewel Thief’.

“The second amendment to the Act was published in the Gazette of India on October 27. The rules will be effective from November 14 for both the film and TV industry,” said a Union health ministry official.

The rules are precise – a federal health officer will sit in on Censor Board screenings to ensure that rules aren’t broken and a health-warning scroll runs across the screen when an actor lights up.

Health messages of at least 20 seconds will have to be shown twice – before and during the film or TV show. Also, it would be an offence to use pictures of stars smoking in promotional material.

The two-page amendment says filmmakers must justify to the Censor Board the need for smoking scenes, edit out logos of tobacco companies and ensure no tobacco-related scenes are used in promos.

“It’s possible that the film needs a smoking scene for creative reasons. But it would be out of context to show an actor smoking on the promotional posters,” said the health ministry official.

The new rules come more than five years after the then Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss had sought a complete ban on on-screen smoking along with a ban on smoking at public places.

Health activists aren’t happy. “From a public health perspective, a complete ban would have been better. But the fact that an actor has to give a disclaimer is good enough,” said Delhi-based Monika Arora of the Public Health Forum of India.

Cancer surgeon Pankaj Chaturvedi from Tata Memorial Hospital said, “The new rules promote a more holistic approach rather than a moral policing one.”

He, however, hopes that filmmakers will so dread the prospect of providing in-film disclaimers that they will include fewer scenes with cigarettes and chewing of tobacco.

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