India’s health minister Anbumani Ramadoss requested Bollywood stars to stop smoking in public in an interview to a news channel recently.
“Again I would like to make an appeal, not only to Mr Shah Rukh Khan, but also to Amitabh Bachchan and to all the other personalities. Children are being affected.”
“There shouldn’t be any smoking scenes in movies because we have statistics showing that 52 percent of children have their first puff of cigarette due to movie celebrities,” the minister said.
Guess how did the Bollywood Badshah reacted to it?
He said… No! I will keep smoking in public!
“I think there is a huge amount of creative freedom that should be allowed in cinema,” he told a press conference broadcast. “It is make-believe … We should not have huge censorship.” Shaha Rukh said.
“I am grateful to Dr Ramadoss for being concerned about our health, but at the same time I must mention that whenever I am seen on television, I always underline that smoking is injurious to health.”
If that was not much, other people too joined the word-war.
Director Mahesh Bhatt was predictably more militant. “Demonising Shah Rukh Khan can help our health minister grab headlines, nothing more,” he said.
Both Bachchan and Khan, currently Bollywood’s most popular leading men, have been hauled up on different occasions by an anti-smoking group for lighting up in public in violation of a 2004 ban.
So, the concern is certainly not new and it marked a rare public debate about smoking in India, where at least 250 million people smoke or chew tobacco and 2,200 people die daily from tobacco-related diseases.