For a six-year-old Ammu seated in the multiplex waiting to watch Despicable Me, what preceded the yellow multitude of minions was a gory advertisement. Her eyes were glued to the mucky sponge being squeezed on the big screen during the anti-tobacco health advisory issued in public interest by the Government of India.
Wide-eyed and startled, she nudged her father, “Is this how your lungs are, Papa?” The beaker on screen was now brimming with tar; her father, wearing a cold smile, fumbled in the dark for the right words.
What you and I and filmmakers misunderstand is the underlying intention of the advisory. It is not a means to inform us that smoking is harmful; it is, instead, a deliberate attempt to create a distinct disturbing image that will linger.
Why does one smoke anyway? In Chapter 8 of his much acclaimed book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell calls smoking an epidemic and goes on to explain that a possible reason people get addicted to nicotine is depression. When you are depressed, your serotonin levels are usually low; a cigarette, a dose of nicotine, prompts your brain to produce more serotonin, giving you momentary solace, sometimes a faint high.
Chandrasekhar Rath was seven when he first saw a cigarette, 17 when he first smoked one. Right hand clasping one of the rusty bars of the window, left hand holding a cigarette; pausing occasionally to take drags as he hummed along with the transistor: ‘Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaaye hum dono’ (Come, let us become strangers once again). This image -- watching his uncle smoke by the window -- is still vivid in Rath’s memory.
He doesn’t remember the first film in which he saw a hero smoke. A documentary maker by profession, his daily count was five packs, sometimes six. He quit smoking after he went to Tata Cancer Hospital to record footage for an anti-smoking advertisement he made for the Cancer Patients Aid Association.
“As I watched them wriggle in their beds regretting every drag, I knew they would give up anything to exchange places with me. Something inside me churned; I walked out and threw [away] the entire packet. I haven’t smoked since then. In the initial few months there were days when I had to drag myself away from the shop near the alley where I usually bought my daily quota from. I even had to stay aloof from my friends who smoked and parties and fun for a while,” Rath says. He was 37 when he quit.
Courtesy: Open Magazine