Television

TV industry largely ok with on-screen tobacco ban

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MUMBAI: A government diktat stubbing the use of tobacco products on the big and small screen has had the "filmwallahs" fuming, but not so the television fraternity.

First the facts of the matter. From August 2005, characters in movies and television are not supposed to display or use tobacco products. When it comes to older movies, channels and theatres will have to carry scrolling health warning messages.

The filmmakers' community has responded vehemently with noted film director Shyam Benegal calling the government's decision "not a well-advised step" and dial-a-quote producer-director Mahesh Bhatt not surprisingly terming the directive ''an absurd regulation".

In this contest, indiantelevision.com decided to speak to a cross section of the Indian television industry ranging from channel executives to popular artists. Leading channels played it safe, expressing their aversion to smoking on-screen and even the actor community supported it wholeheartedly. On the other hand, directors seemed to have a problem.

Channel executives said the ban hardly mattered since they had already been following self-regulation on this issue. Sony Entertainment Television EVP & business head Tarun Katial had a crisp reply in store. "We have no actors smoking in our serials and we don't subscribe to this practice," he snaps.

Sahara One Television programming head Kumud Chowdhary expresses the channel's willingness to follow the government directives on the issue. But at the same time, she opines her personal view that such a ban is not actually fair from a creative point of view.

"Even earlier there were these S&P (standards and practices) directives that we can't show people actually drinking or smoking on television. We could show them with a cigarette or a bottle in hand, but not actually smoking or drinking. So we were abiding by that. Now with this new directive being passed, we will abide by this too, but it isn't actually fair as sometimes these situations are an integral part of the storyline and helps in creating an atmosphere for a particular setting," she says.

"We had taken a decision on this some time back. According to this, we don't show any of our serial actors as smoking on-screen. Earlier, we used to run a strip saying "Cigarette smoking is injurious to health" whenever such a scene came. So the present ban doesn't really affect us, "says Zee TV programming head c.

Star executives were unavailable for comment at the time of filing this report.

Ajay Sinha, director of Zee shows Hasratein and Astitva calls the government "stupid' for imposing such a ban. "The government should impose a ban on smoking instead of banning it on television or at least identify where one can and cannot smoke. Serials do not encourage smoking, it just depicts a life style. They don't impose ban on smoking because they earn revenue by way of taxes. If smoking is banned in life, it will automatically be banned on TV. They are trying to shift the onus onto TV industry," says Sinha.

Producer-director Paritosh Painter opines that a complete ban is uncalled for. "A ban can be applied to scenes were cigarette smoking is shown as a style statement. But a scene where cigarette smoking is essential to the script should be allowed."

Actor Rohit Roy calls it a "good move". "Actors are role models. And a large section of Indians are uneducated. Seeing their favourite star smoking can induce such habits in them too. If I grew up seeing Amitabh Bachchan smoking, I would probably take it up thinking if God can why can't I? Recently my serial on Zee had scenes of me smoking. But then we decided not to show any more of such scenes," he reasons.

Jaya Bhattacharya, the Payal of Kyunki... prefers healthy life to creative freedom. "Yes, it does bring limitations to a person's character if he has to be shown in a negative role. But healthy life is more important.

Mihir Misra, who plays a doctor in reel life in the Star Plus show Sanjivani-A Medical Boon, also lauds the decision. "There is a section of viewers in kids who don't have the power of discretion. They find it's cool to imitate the actors."

(With special inputs from HETAL ADESARA)

First the facts of the matter. From August 2005, characters in movies and television are not supposed to display or use tobacco products. When it comes to older movies, channels and theatres will have to carry scrolling health warning messages.

The filmmakers' community has responded vehemently with noted film director Shyam Benegal calling the government's decision "not a well-advised step" and dial-a-quote producer-director Mahesh Bhatt not surprisingly terming the directive ''an absurd regulation".

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