An intense, closely observed character study of a New York socialite facing penury, stuck with relationships gone astray and a lost family, Blue Jasmine is a return to form for veteran filmmaker Woody Allen. Some critics are even calling it his strongest film in recent times. And it has Cate Blanchett at her finest as the lead. Blanchett is stirring as Jasmine: beautiful but broken, arrogant but fragile, self-seeking but also blatantly used and exploited, deceived and deluded, in irrevocable decline and tragic denial at once. Only her regal posture and easy style masks her utterly crushed spirit. Blanchett internalises the character, brings it alive physically with every twitch of her haunted eyes and every move and shake of the hand. She lives the woman abandoned by the world, and by her own self.
If this was an ideal world, we should have seen this film hit our theatres last Friday, October 4. But it’s not, and it has not. Annoyed at the mandatory anti-smoking ‘insertions’ here, Allen decided not to release the film in India, thereby officially becoming the first filmmaker (and Blue Jasmine the first film) to refuse to bow down to the health ministry directive. His decision was on artistic grounds, that he wouldn’t allow his film to be tampered with. Irony is that though there are many sequences of alcohol consumption and other indiscretions, there are barely two scenes in the film with the cancer-stick, both featuring Andrew Dice Clay as the disgruntled former husband of Jasmine’s sister. Even in these scenes Clay barely brings the cigarette to his lips.
Last heard, Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly too had been denied a censor certificate for the same reason in mid-September. So where will he go from here? How will he take on the law of the land? Will Ugly go the Blue Jasmine way? “I have refused to put the anti-smoking ad and watermark on my film. We haven’t yet decided our next course of action. But I will not put those on my film,” said Kashyap in an e-mail from abroad. Deprived fans were quick to jump at the censor board for denying them their dose of Allen but the grapevine has it that not just the film fraternity and viewers, even the I&B ministry and the CBFC have had issues with the health and family welfare ministry notification. Issued on September 12, 2001, it makes it mandatory for all Indian films to have anti-smoking spots in the beginning and the middle and disclaimers at the bottom right corner each time a character lights up in a scene. Failing this, a film is denied certification and release.
The concern of filmmakers and viewers is understandable. Nowhere in the world does the cigarette distort a film the way it does in India. The aesthetics and integrity of a scene are easily sacrificed for a scroll at the bottom, screaming for attention. Aren’t those ad spots—‘sponge and Mukesh’ and now ‘child and dhuan’—at the beginning and the interval enough to horrify viewers against smoking? Is this constant reminder through a film or TV show necessary?
Clearly cinema, because of its immense reach and popularity, has become an easy scapegoat. But has there been any independent study to suggest that these ad spots have brought down tobacco consumption dramatically? Or are we just clearing our conscience and getting rid of a problem in our head by sanitising movies? What about efforts on the ground? While we hold cinema to ransom, cigarettes are easily sold to kids and teenagers all the time around us, more cheaply priced here than in the West.
If this policing and infantilising of viewers wasn’t enough, there’s more. We are told these guidelines are still better than the original idea of the health ministry—altogether excising smoking on screen. Which makes one wonder what cinema would have been without a Humphrey Bogart or Dev Anand precariously pursing a cigarette between the lips. Would Mausam be the same without Sharmila Tagore puffing away on the beedi? Would Ray have been able to make Shatranj ke Khiladi without Sanjeev Kumar drawing so pensively on the hookah? And would there even have been a Rajnikant?
Treating viewers like imbeciles isn’t just irksome but also makes one wonder how many ills portrayed in a film would the viewer be guarded against? Veteran lyricist-filmmaker-poet Gulzar was riotously tongue-in-cheek as he took the mickey out of the ridiculous guideline in Khatra, the prelude song in Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola, drawing attention to some of our banal everyday hazards: the dangers of eating popcorn or roaming about on the streets. Junk food and aerated drinks are bad for health. Shouldn’t we get a scroll for every burger or cold drink shown on screen? Let’s look at Blue Jasmine again. It’s about corporate frauds, financial crimes and philandering. Would you put a warning against them as well? For they are injurious to big business, society and family. Preach on!
The opinion piece on the statutory, intrusive no-smoking ads in films in India (Baby, Light My Pyre, Oct 21), though demanding a relaxation in the name of artistic freedom, is quite lamentable. Yes, one can see school students smoking at paan shops. But why would ‘intellectuals’ care about youngsters? I wonder if tobacco firms pay them to ‘hold artistic freedom high’.
The 'Smoking is bad' warning in cinema is an admirable initiative on the part of the government, to educate the masses in an undeveloped country, about the dangers of smoking.
Feminists like Woody Allen, with their anti-male agenda, can go and hang themselves, for all I care.
Misogynist >> The 'Smoking is bad' warning in cinema is an admirable initiative on the part of the government, to educate the masses in an undeveloped country, about the dangers of smoking.
While the warning is desirable (despite the pathetic whining smoking journos here), it is hardly enough. Government should have a road map to completely ban smoking in public domain. For that , clear restrictions on cultivation of tobacco and manufacturing its products is necessary. Hard regulations and tough laws are needed to prevent distribution of tobacco products in any form .
It is a pity that Woody Allen's movie "Blue Jasmine" has run into snags in India. It is one of his better movies, a perfect modernistic rendition of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," which brought Oscars to Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter.
Warnings about dangers of smoking may be shown before and after a movie, but to insert them in the body of the feature is inappropriate. Woody Allen is quite right to object on artistic grounds to the tampering of his film.
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