NEW DELHI – After asking Bollywood actors not to smoke on screen, India's health minister has called on movie heroes to stop drinking alcohol on camera, while hinting that the booze could stay in villains' cups, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said Bollywood should set a better example for India's young people.
"Earlier, most villains were shown consuming alcohol. Now heroes have started to portray alcohol consumption more often," the Times of India quoted Ramadoss as saying.
In much of India, especially big cities being reshaped by the booming economy, alcohol is losing the stigma it has long carried in the deeply conservative nation. Young professionals gather at wine bars, nightclubs serve high-priced cocktails, and — much to the health czar's chagrin — starlets sip chardonnay on screen.
"Actors drinking on screen will encourage youngsters to take up the habit. Scenes depicting alcohol consumption in films need to immediately stop," Ramadoss told a news conference Tuesday.
"Alcohol is the mother of all public health problems in India," he added.
The health minister's appeals carry no legal weight and so far have not produced significant results.
Bollywood is the name given to the Mumbai-based Hindi-language film industry, the world's largest in terms of number of movies produced.
Bollywood movies are hugely influential in the film-crazy country and remain relatively conservative.
Kisses on screen are still taboo — though suggestive hip-swiveling dance scenes are ubiquitous — and actress Kareena Kapoor recently made national headlines over speculation that she might wear a bikini in her new movie.
But alcohol has become more common in movies, a development hailed by the country's young wine industry as a sign of mainstream acceptance.
This isn't the first time Ramadoss has accused Bollywood of bad behavior.
In January, he called on movie stars to stop smoking cigarettes on screen, saying 52 percent of children start smoking to be like their film idols.
Ramadoss singled out Shah Rukh Khan, one of the country's biggest stars, for smoking in his movies, but the actor criticized the comments as amounting to censorship.
Industry experts said the health minister's demands were unreasonable.
"First he says don't smoke, now it's don't drink. It's undoable, because then what do you show?" said Komal Nahta, editor of the trade journal Film Information.
Young people do not pick up all their habits from watching movies, he said.