Cinema has always held sway over Indians at large, shaping people’s values, attitudes and lifestyles. For decades, it was hailed as a harbinger of social change. Large numbers have been sensitized to problems of untouchability, religious prejudice, inequality and injustice by movies, even masala flicks. The medium has played a role in women’s empowerment, highlighted political corruption, and exposed corporate greed. But, as a recent study indicates, the influence of Hindi cinema is not always salutary.
Hindi films often promote unhealthy behaviour among their viewers, especially kids, according to a study published in the science journal PLOS One. Bollywood movies not only expose audiences excessively to tobacco and alcohol consumption, they also portray junk food positively—with various brands making paid-for appearances on the screen. Researchers from US-based Vital Strategies and Imperial College, London, analysed 300 films from 1994 to 2013, and found that 93% of them had at least one depiction of booze usage, 70% had at least one of tobacco, and 21% of branded fast food. The average movie featured tobacco products four times, alcohol seven times, and the third of those bad habits a little less than half a time.
The findings should not surprise us, though. Indian lifestyles were transformed by the economy’s opening up over the 1990s, and global exposure via satellite TV and the internet had prime roles to play in it. In defence of filmmakers, it could be said that movies of this period only reflected the social reality of the post-liberalization era. Yet, given the influence on-screen depictions command with the country's multitudes, our film industry would do well to keep watch of what it screens and pay attention to social values that need to be upheld.