After the release of the controversial Padmaavat, the controversies surrounding it did not wane away. Instead, the release of the movie has given people more to talk about. After Swara Bhaskar’s open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on 27th January, reactions have been pouring in.
Though most of the reactions seem to agree that everyone has a right to their own opinion, not all of them agree with Swara’s statements. Swara, in her open letter, has accused the movie of portraying misogynistic elements, by showing Jauhar. Jauhar was the practice of collective self-immolation by women in certain parts of India, to avoid being enslaved, raped, or harassed by invaders. Swara’s open letter suggests the movie glorifies the historic, barbaric custom.
Not everyone agrees, though. Taapsee Pannu, for instance, believes the movie should be taken as a movie. The portrayal of Jauhar does not indicate the actors support it. Deepika Padukone has commented that Swara must have missed the disclaimers at the beginning of the movie.
On 31st January, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, at last, spoke about Padmaavat in his interview to Mid-Day. Apart from being proud of his movie, he states he has been feeling encouraged to make more movies immediately after seeing the reactions to Padmaavat. He further states that the biggest support to the movie, according to Bhansali, came from the people who went to watch the movie.
In reaction to Swara’s open letter, Bhansali said that Jauhar in the movie is “an act of war”. According to him, the women waged the final war by refusing to be subjugated by the invaders. That was Rani Padmavati’s decision. Bhansali suggests that the film was based on a story in which the character performed Jauhar. He considers it an “empowering thought”. He says that not everyone can agree with his interpretation, but they shouldn’t curtail an artist’s freedom of expression.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali mentions that he doesn’t wish to question the events of the past. Scrutinizing history does seem like a historian’s job, not of filmmakers. Historians are academicians, filmmakers are artists. And artists cannot function without creative freedom.
Swara Bhaskar’s intentions in writing the letter might have been moralistic, feministic, maybe even noble. However, ironically enough, the essence seems to have been lost in the interpretation.
Exposure to Tobacco Imagery Contributes to Smoking Habits Among Young Indians
Be it for the adrenaline-inducing endeavours of James Bond or the sharp-mindedness of Beena Tripathi from Mirzapur, much of cinema would be banal without its fair share of iconic characters. It’s no secret that the characters portrayed on screen and the actors playing them greatly influence box office revenues.
In South Indian cinema, the likes of Mohanlal, Ram Charan, Prabhas, among others, have long enjoyed success in the industry owing to their loyal fan-base. Bollywood, too, possesses its share of fan favourites in Nawazuddin Siddique, Pankaj Tripathi, and Vijay Varma, among others. The coalescence of fan-loyalty, coupled with ‘For the Fan’ content and industry rivalries, has blended a perfect brew for the industry’s survival.
But while producers and film industrialists work on selling their content to enthusiasts and the general audience, opinions surrounding the rebounding impact of characterisation, psychological idiosyncrasies, and moral conduct of characters within visual content across platforms, is unheard off.
A recent article in The Swaddle highlighted the necessity of having ‘Intimacy Co-ordinators’ on film sets to assist the actor and director in navigating the shooting of intimate scenes. Recent studies have also analysed dialogues, colourism, and gender inclusivity in Bollywood films and have found positive trends.
Despite this, questionable elements within visual content and controversial characters still seem to wield a significant influence on the general audience. One of the most contentious amongst them recognising the influence of smoking imagery in films and, more recently, Over-the-top (OTT) content on the audience.
Tobacco Imagery Compounds Smoking Habits Among Young Indians
Over the years, Bollywood movies and, more recently, OTT content has received scorn for embellishing smoking habits and encouraging them through compartmentalising genders. In recent years, mainstream content across various platforms has fixed a cigarette between the fingers of female and LGBTQIA+ characters as a marker for independence and strength – a change from the ’70s and ’80s where female characters smoking cigarettes were portrayed as ‘Vamps’ and ‘Degenerates’. While one could argue about the potential of this change ending up as another trope, tobacco consumption is still portrayed as a token of masculinity across mainstream content amongst male characters.
More recently, Kabir Singh, a Bollywood film starring actor Shahid Kapoor as the protagonist, received scrutiny as an embodiment of toxic masculinity. The film’s teaser poster displayed a silhouette picture of the central character holding two cigarettes between his lips, with a stethoscope around his neck. It is not a long shot to assume that many of these depictions eventually influence society sections.
Studies have concluded that tobacco imagery in visual content has resulted in increased tobacco consumption among young adults. A 2019 study, published in the BMJ Journal, found that popular content streamed across OTT platforms did not comply with Section 5 of India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003 – amended in 2012. It noted. “None of the episodes in any season of these seven series, including the ones which featured historical characters (The Crown and Narcos), had anti-tobacco static warning messages, anti-tobacco health spots or displayed an audio-visual disclaimer about the ill effects of tobacco use” – 3 of the ten series analysed did not have any instance of tobacco usage.
The study analysed 188 episodes across ten series – selected after discussions with participants (15-24) in New Delhi – on Netflix and Amazon Prime for instances of tobacco use and brand appearances. It found that out of the 188 episodes analysed, 108 of them had at least an instance of tobacco use. Additionally, it noted that US-produced shows accounted for more tobacco usage instances than Indian shows like ‘Mirzapur’ and ‘Sacred Games’.
Addressing the portrayal of smoking imagery in visual content and its impact within social circles, an opinionated survey conducted by the author of this article rendered mixed views. The survey conducted through the medium of an online form garnered participants’ views (19-23). Out of 25 respondents, a majority of the participants (13) were of 20 years of age.
The survey recorded that 11 out of the 22 respondents felt that Smoking Imagery in visual content impacted their social circles, while ten did not witness any manifestation of its influence. One respondent did not provide an articulate answer.
Further, it also found that nine respondents believed that tobacco imagery across film and OTT platforms requires dilution, while 13 opined for a need to educate young viewers about film characterisation.
Besides, 56% of 25 respondents held that the personification and characterisation of smoking across film and T.V content contributed to smoking habits among Indian Youth. 68% believed that smoking scenes in films and OTT content affected Indian youth. 84% of the 25 respondents felt that drug/alcohol consumption disclaimers were not adequate to discourage viewers.
While research material concludes that tobacco imagery can prompt a viewer to take up smoking, the responsibility of integrating tobacco use in visual content and its rebounding impact on the viewers needs to be shouldered not only by content producers but also by viewers and cigarette brands.
Do Cigarette Candies Encourage Smoking Habits?
Candies provide nostalgia like no other. Be it for a tangy-sweet rock or flavourful dust candy that pops in your mouth, the thought of consuming candy will have undoubtedly left you with an insatiable appetite for sweetness. In recent years, however, the uptake in consumption of candies has thrown light upon the ill-effects of its consumption. Scientific research over the years has detailed the use of unhealthy amounts of sugar and preservatives in candy bars, with research also focusing on the fallout of candy consumption. Yet, candy consumption shows no signs of slowing down.
More recently, there has been a heated debate surrounding how cigarette candies inadvertently normalise smoking’s harmful effects. The growing consumption of mint candy cigarettes amongst children has left many concerned about its potential impact on their future. Many believe that cigarette candies’ production blurs the lines between the consumption of nicotine cigarettes and candy cigarettes amongst children.
Past research has concluded that cigarette candies’ desensitised’ children about the harmful repercussions of smoking. A 2007 study conducted among 25,887 US adults found that, at the time, 22% of the smokers had a history of consuming candy cigarettes while only 14% had little to no familiarity with cigarette candies.
Further, the packaging and ingredients of cigarette candies have been before met with furore. In the past, cigarette candy manufacturing companies have received criticism for hiding powdered sugar in the wrappers, creating the illusion of ‘real smoking’. Moreover, cigarette candies do not comprise healthy ingredients either. ‘Phantom Cigarettes’, a famous candy cigarette brand in India, composes 75-80% sugar while the rest 20% comprises glucose and gelatin – excessive consumption of which can produce long-term health problems.
The amalgamation of these repercussions has led to the ban of cigarette candies in many countries across the globe. In India, cigarette candies are still sold at local shops and even online.
Research over the years has pointed out that Tobacco imagery influences smoking habits. The absence of strict action against the violators of tobacco laws within visual content and the general disregard concerning passive smoking and the production of candy cigarettes may result in a ‘Health epidemic’ WHO estimates that smoking causes 7 million deaths per year, with low and middle-income countries accounting for 80% of these deaths. Hence, smoking prevention is a global health priority, and it is indispensable, now more than ever, to discourage smoking and move towards a healthier lifestyle.
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Bombay high court slams BMC for illegal demolition of Kangana Ranaut’s Property
Bombay High Court has granted relief to Kananga Ranaut in a plea filed against Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for demolishing her Bandra office property. High Court condemned BMC by quoting that the officials had acted with malice in destroying the part of Ranaut’s bungalow.
The court also noted that Ms Ranaut would also be compensated for the damage caused by the demolition by appointing a valuer who would determine orders regarding compensation value.
On September 9th the BMC had smashed a part of Ms Ranaut’s office in a bungalow at Pali Hill, Bandra .The actor alleged the development happened after her remarks of feeling unsafe in Mumbai and comparing it with Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
Following, we see an exchange of derogatory verbal fights between the Maharashtra state government members and Kangana Ranaut. The opposition, including BJP criticised the state government’s use of police power against any criticism. The BJP led centre government also provided Ms Ranaut with Y-plus category of CRPF personnel for her safe return in Mumbai
In petition, Ms Ranaut argued for illegal demolition of her property by BMC who according to her, is controlled and influenced by the ruling state government.
A division bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and RI Chagla said “MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) has proceeded on wrongful grounds, against the rights of the citizens. It is nothing but malice in law“. The court also commented “it does not approve of authorities using “muscle power” against any citizen.”
High court further allowed Ms Ranaut to take measure for making her property habitable again, given that it is compliance with the approved plan. An application must be made to BMC for approval which will be decided in weeks. BMC cannot regularise any action until the application disposed of the appointed valuer.
Kangana Ranaut’s and opposition reaction:
Ms Ranaut, who is publicly critical of the state government applauded High Court’s decision by calling it not only a victory of an individual but of democracy.
However, High Court observed that “Kangana Ranaut should show restraint in airing her opinions on the government” and further added irresponsible statement made by a citizen in an individual capacity, however distasteful or wrong they may be, are best ignored.
Following the decision, Devandra Fadavis, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, said “they should realise now that not every voice against the government can be crushed this way.”
He further asked “Will the government call the SC and HC desh drohi (anti-national)?”. He took a dig at Uddhav Thackerey and said “If you speak against the government on social media, you are put under arrest. Such is the condition in Maharashtra. I have never seen a CM who keeps threatening people.”
Given the political conflict and loose statements from Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, the high court said: “Such conduct certainly does not befit a leader like Shri Raut who is also a Parliamentarian.”
Mr Raut, also the spokesperson of Shiv Sena adhering to High court decision, said “I still respect the court’s decision. The law should be equal for all.”
In another case against Kangana Ranaut and her sister Rangoli, High court questions the use of sedition charges 124A of Indian penal code in FIR filed by Mumbai.
Expressing concerts, Justice Shinde asked Mumbai Police’s representative “If anybody doesn’t not fall in line within the government, will that be sedition?”. Justice further emphasised by repeating “Are you treating citizens of the country like this? 124A?”
Justice Shinde further asked why police is invoking such a section in such cases concerning several inadequate matters.
“You conduct proper workshops for officers as to which sections should be invoked,” Justice Shinde told the advocate.
What is sedition in 124A?
Sedition, a British imperial code, acts as a non-bailable offence against any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India.
The code is heavily criticised for its misuse and curbing of freedom of speech. Mahatma Gandhi himself called it “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”
The supreme court and High courts have repeatedly observed that sedition can be only be invoked to penalise criticism of actions of the government when it encourages people to resort violence or have the motivation of creating public disorder.
Mumbai Mayor’s comment:
The elected chief of the BMC Kishori Pednekar of Shiv Sena gives critical remarks by saying “Everyone is surprised that an actor comes to Mumbai, from Himachal Pradesh, and calls it PoK. Then there are complaints against her. Do takke ke log (insignificant people) want to turn the court into a political chaos. This is wrong.”
#WATCH: Everyone is surprised that an actress who lives in Himachal, comes here & calls our Mumbai PoK… such 'do takke ke log' want to make Courts arena for political rivalry, it's wrong: Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on Bombay HC setting aside BMC notices to Kangana Ranaut https://t.co/DZi7GVeFI2 pic.twitter.com/UPlLvygIxI
— ANI (@ANI) November 27, 2020
Ms Pednekar further accepted to adhere court’s ruling with all respect.
In reply to Mayor’s remark, Kangana Ranaut tweeted:
In a big of win of legal proceeding, Ranaut and opposition welcomes High Court orders whereas the ruling party seems to accept the same. Presently, it is unclear if BMC will approach supreme court challenging High Court’s ruling.
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