Remember the good old days when you could walk into a movie hall and watch a film from start to finish in peace? The routine was simple: you settled down in your seat, lights dimmed, commercials and public service ads flashed on the screen, and the film you were looking forward to watching for weeks began. This was the time when all warnings — ranging from reminders about buying life insurance for your loved ones, the hazards of cigarette smoking, and the need to give your children polio shots on time — were issued before the film. Public service ads are put together to remind us that life is a grim business.
Accidents are waiting to happen. Addictions are hard to shake off. Death and disease can surprise us anywhere, anytime. So before we slipped into celluloid oblivion, these ads were served to us like strong medicine, a taste of our own mortality. Fair enough. No complaints about that.
Children need to be inoculated against disease. Life insurance is a useful crutch in times of crisis. And we are all better off being reminded — through any medium available — that tobacco is a giant killer. Alarm bells should be rung loud and clear since India is in the grip of a deadly tobacco epidemic. Studies put the number of tobacco users — smokers and those using smokeless tobacco like guthka and zarda — in India at a whopping 275 million. It is estimated that tobacco consumption will cause more than 1.5 million deaths in the country annually by 2020. Raising awareness and getting users to give up the habit is crucial.
But whose brainwave was it to flash a ticker on screen every time an actor/actress lights up? Can this be the government’s idea of a miracle cure for an extremely complicated problem?
Going by the nagging ticker’s logic (or lack thereof), all Indian citizens who forked out a chunk of their hard-earned wages to watch The Wolf of Wall Street on the big screen last month should have quit smoking by the time the credits rolled. The ticker — ‘Smoking Kills’, in big bold letters — popped up at least a dozen times during the film’s three-hour epic running time. Sometimes, the ticker would show up even before the actor lit up. An anticipatory warning if you will. In some scenes, the ticker would hang in there like a cloud after the cigarette was snuffed out onscreen. Throughout, the ticker did a good job of buzzing around like a fly and annoying the hell out of the audience who was trying to follow the film’s plot. It is also worth mentioning that there were no tickers warning moviegoers against snorting cocaine (multiple times), coveting your business partner’s girlfriend, or dabbling in the stock market at any point of time during the film.
The ticker is an annoyance at best. It serves no real purpose except to break the continuity of a film, wreck the moviegoer’s concentration, and invite curses from directors in Bollywood, Hollywood, or anyplace else. Award winning filmmakers are thinking twice about releasing their movies in Indian theatres. Who wants a lifetime of hard work to be destroyed by a ticker that has no sense of time or place? What self-respecting director would like to let a ticker run amuck on screen and wreck a scene?
Instead of setting out on a crusade to destroy seamless storylines with tickers, the government should do us all a favour and find more effective ways to enforce tobacco control laws, tighten up regulations regarding smoke-free zones, and make policy decisions to hike up the price of tobacco.
A collection of the author’s short stories titled A Happy Place will be published by Harper Collins in March 2014