Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004





In Fashion… Fag is NO NO!

Once cigarette smoking was considered stylish. Bollywood icon Dev Anand often spoke with a fag between his lips. Women went crazy looking at him and men aped him to the hilt. Hollywood’s legendary star Humphrey Bogart would not let himself be caught even dead without a cigarette. The smoky aura he created around him in films such as “Casablanca” was hailed as fashionable, even sexy. Guru Dutt smoked on the screen, and what a suave image he presented in his innumerable Hindi movies. Sharon Stone, Hollywood’s saucy actress, turned men hot with her provocative smoking in “Basic Instinct”.

That was a while ago, when tobacco companies fooled us into believing that nicotine was not addictive and smoking not injurious to health. It is, we know
Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct"
that now, and cigarette is no longer seen as a style statement. Rather, those who puff away are termed anti-socials, because secondary smoke is equally harmful. In the U.S. in particular, smokers are shooed away, and termed outcastes. In most of India smoking is banned in public places, though the enforcement may vary from State to State. So, it is not rare to find men – and women too – playing with the poison stick in airports and railway stations.

Cinema has become socially conscious of this evil, and has made a valiant effort to stop its characters from smoking. Such scenes are not permitted in Indian cinema, and the law, despite stiff opposition by some industry wallahs (provoked by the big cigarette companies), holds.

Anurag Kashyap’s “No Smoking” – which is to be premiered at the Rome Film Festival in mid-October – tells the story of a chain smoker, who, encouraged by his doctor, enters a rehab centre to quite the habit. The plot appears timely, and Kashyap must be an extremely well meaning citizen to use cinema as a vehicle of social progress and change. I thought the era of socially alive moviemakers was over with Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor. Kashyap, part of the popular genre, proves that it is not.

Hollywood is also getting into the no-smoking mode. A report in The New York Times says: In the movie musical “Dreamgirls” last year, James “Thunder” Early, Eddie Murphy’s soul-singing, chain-smoking character, was so infuriated by a fumbled food order that he mashed his cigarette into a chicken sandwich that was supposed to have no mayonnaise. That portrayal and scene could still fly these days at DreamWorks, which made the movie. But if Universal Pictures were to produce the movie today, Mr. Murphy might consider having his character switch to chewing gum”.

Although major Hollywood studios are still debating whether to allow smoking on the screen, there is a dedicated and growing lobby which believes that cigarette-toting characters push teens to take up the habit.

I quote from the paper again: “The extent to which depictions of smoking actually spur the young to smoke remains a subject of debate. Widely cited research by Dr. James A. Sargent of the Dartmouth Medical School showed a connection between adolescent exposure to smoking in movies and addiction to tobacco. But Dr. Deborah Glik, director of the Health and Media Research Group at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the connection appeared strongest among those who were already predisposed by other factors to smoke”.

Whatever it is, it is an irrefutable fact that smoking is positively bad for health, and hence hardly fashionable. Remember, we now live in a world that places a premium on good physical looks. And smoking kills appetite and makes the skin look sick. The mouth stinks of tobacco. Is a puff worth all this?

(Webposted October 2 2007)