Smoking Kills: Is the Disclaimer Justified ?
I was heartbroken to hear that Woody Allen cancelled the release of his latest film in India, because the ‘SmokingKills’ warning was a distraction.
It is something that has pissed me off for long, too.
Having watched The Lunchbox and raved about it, I am tempted to say it was my idea of the perfect Hindi film.
Not for me the outlandish costumes and people flying off the surface like they popped anti-gravity pills. Not for me the loud soundtracks that butt into your head, pulling you here and there, making you feel things that the story is incapable of making you feel. Give me a film like this anyday.
However, if there was one thing that irked me in The Lunchbox, (and this wasn’t because of the makers at all), it was the Smoking Kills sign that kept popping up everytime Irrfan Khan lit up a cigarette. Every Indian film is compelled to give warnings about the ill effects of smoking every time a character is shown smoking, and this is supposed to deter the youth of the country to take up the evil habit.
Now, there are so many things wrong with this, but I shall harp here about the two most annoying things.
a. Creative Liberty: A film is a creative medium. Which means my story and characters will behave in a certain manner because I made them. You have paid me your money to come watch what I made, with the confidence that it will be well made, and not treat you at par with the orangutan in the state zoo.
Now, if I make a film on Shiva and show him smoking his chillum, will I have to add a ‘Smoking Kills’ warning at the bottom of the screen? But how? He is God, no? How can he do something that might kill people? Also, most people who hang out near Shiva temples first pray for a few seconds to Bholenath and then light up the chillum. Would you have the Supreme Court pass an ordinance asking the religion to disassociate itself with the evil habit?
Oh, I forgot. You wouldn’t, because that constitutes religion. But films? Fuck it, yaar. We have been singing and dancing for decades now. Who gives a fuck?
2. Playing with the medium: When I am watching a movie, I am immersed in it. In the story, the characters, and what is happening to them.
Ignoring the annoying kid who cries every two and a half seconds, and the letch who whistles every time anybody female appears on screen, I have somehow managed to suspend my disbelief, and get involved in what is going on. And right then, BAM! I am jolted back into reality with a warning about how smoking kills.
This, after there has been an anti-smoking law passed in the country since 2008. And every cigarette box has a picture of a topless John Terry with his lungs burnt. And all those ads with Mukesh, that poor 24 year old guy who died of oral cancer, but if he were a ghost, he would come back to haunt the fuck out of that doctor for pimping his death out for his own needs.
But no, apparently the youth of the nation, with all the brains that their many gods have gifted them, are thick enough to start smoking after watching it on screen. And those two words – ‘Smoking Kills’ – are all that stand between them and a life of waste and ash.
Give me a break, morons!
What’s next? Digvijay Singh fighting for the rights of smokers, and Manmohan Singh saying that smokers have the first rights to Oxygen of the nation?
Since we are anyway doing our bit for the youth of the country, why not go the whole hog?
Why not insulate the youth of the country from the other evils that films propagate? Don’t they need warnings too? What if the youth watch films and want to loot banks like Hrithik Roshan in Dhoom 2? What if they watch Uday Chopra in Dhoom 3 and decide that education is not really necessary?
Won’t that be a crisis of sorts?
What then, could solve this problem?
More warning signs!
As it is, all these cinematographers these days use vast, wide frames for their shots. Breathing space, they call it. Why not use this breathing space as a warning space? Fill up the empty spaces with disclaimers for the youth?
I am totally for it.
So let’s begin with a probably list.
1. The Police Officials Disclaimer:
While the police is supposed to keep you safe, and instil a sense of security in your life, the police have connived with Bollywood to create an image of totalitarian monsters.
As if all the decades of the corrupt policemen who would eat out of Amish Puri’s hands wasn’t enough, there is the new crop of police films nowadays.
The ones with cops who survive on a steady diet of steroids, and bash up people as and when they please. Every popular superstar has played a cop, and he randomly sings songs on the road, punches people, shoots them, has slo-mo wars with the baddies in the middle of a road. And no one says anything.
Won’t it create the wrong impression about policemen of the country? Won’t it eclipse the fact that they are actually soft hearted puppies who would go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, especially if you’re a woman who’s gone to lodge a complaint? How do we ensure that the youth of the county doesn’t mistake our cops for WWE superstars? Or Altaf Raja?
Why not give a disclaimer sign there?
2. The Women’s Disclaimer:
Now, it’s an established fact that Bollywood treats its women as crap. They are generally doormats, or objects of affection. Look at the top grossers of the last three years, and you’ll notice that the women had nothing much to do in the film (Except that slo-mo shot of her running, of course!).
They’re either the sister who gets raped by Raj Babbar, or the mother who is praying for her son (because, you know, the daughter’s in the kitchen, cooking gaajar ka halwa – the hero’s favourite!).
How about a disclaimer for women, then?
How about a disclaimer reassuring women that they are not really doormats and objects of affection? That they are normal people, and their existence is not merely to get the hero to sing and dance with them?
Don’t they deserve a disclaimer too? Come on!
3. The Fairness Disclaimer:
Another known fact is that you have to be fair in Bollywood. Because
life is not fair, and our cinema is escapist, so you have to be fair.
Everything’s fair in love and Bollywood.
If you’re dark, you’re either a thief, or a poor man. Or the villain’s sidekick who speaks in ‘Hoohoohaahaa’ language. You fly off the ground when the hero punches you, even though in reality, you could crush him to chutney and eat him with masala dosa.
But no, if you’re dark, there is no place for you here. Actresses like Kajol will endorse skin ‘lightening’ creams, and dark actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgan will be painted, layer on layer, till they are presentable enough to the camera.
Now, let us stop and pray for the dark-skinned people. Won’t they feel offended? Won’t they get the idea that there is no other work for them on earth, than to look fair?
What will all the brands do? The telemarketers, and the consumers of fairness creams, the very elixir that made Shah Rukh Khan what he is, that stood by him from his earliest days (as he says himself) in this advertisement.
Don’t they all deserve a disclaimer too?
4. The Science Disclaimer:
Copernicus lost his life in its pursuit.
People have devoted their lives in their pursuit. The greatest minds who walked this earth spent decades, arriving at them.
Close home, millions of engineers exist in our own country. Who have studied the laws of physics for many years, and then went on to write books like The Three Days of Sixty Nine. Spent hours of their time, sacrificed their social life, and copious amounts of their own seed to pursue them.
What about them? What about the concepts of science in general?
Won’t the practitioners of this great science feel offended by our films?
Don’t they deserve a disclaimer too? Won’t their very foundations be shaken by what is shown in our movies??
5. The Sexual Harassment Disclaimer:
Smokers kill themselves with the habit. Agreed.
But they do it silently in their own way without disturbing anybody.
They don’t go around violating people, passing remarks, singing songs, and touching them. You know who does that? Sex offenders.
And also, every Bollywood superstar.
It always happens that the girl loves it. She likes being called names, and sung songs to, on her way (walking can be a lonely thing sometimes, you know). She then falls for the guy.
And this apparently happens in every city and town in the country. It is for strange reasons, called ‘eve-teasing’, a seemingly lesser crime than sexual harassment.
Disclaimers are for smokers.
Dumb cretins of the society who have chosen to burn their lungs with
their own money.
So we need a warning, to keep away.
And the perfect film, is ruined.
Because Smoking Kills.
Sexual Harrassment meanwhile, simply lands you in jail.
And then Ram Jethmalani brings you out.