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  • Opinion | Its time for Bollywood celebrities to stop glamorising and normalising drug abuse – Firstpost

 October 8

by Carolina

Drug abuse is a complex issue and since Bollywood is at the centre of all the media spotlight, celebrities should behave responsibly and present a social conduct which inspire the young to be creative.

“If you take out intoxication from art, most of the art will be uncreated,” a senior creative director once shared with me this scary fact of creative life, while rolling a marijuana joint. I was a trainee in one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, fresh from a value-centered middle-class family, of a khadi-wearing, pure vegetarian, Brahman teacher, from a small town. This was my first culture shock.

Marijuana, in those days, was either a necessity of the poor or a privilege of the rich. And escapade for the creative souls. I had no idea at that time that soon I would be part of the same culture—the culture of addiction.

Since ancient times, poets, painters, musicians, writers, actors, etc., have been associated with wine and women. A lot of great artists have died either of addiction or syphilis. When I joined the business of entertainment, anyone smoking marijuana was looked down upon. Generally, theatre artists smoked weed due to its cheap pricing. But not many film artists. They drank Black Label. Almost everyone was an alcoholic. Alcohol was celebrated. Alcoholics, even more. Today, most are into drugs and alcohol is just a sweet old cousin.

“Millions of Indians are dependent on alcohol, cannabis, and opiates, and drug misuse is a pervasive phenomenon in Indian society,” says a report, published jointly by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and India’s Ministry of Social Justice. According to this report, In India, cannabis, heroin and opium are the most commonly used drugs but there is an increasing prevalence of methamphetamine too. The number of users who inject drugs has also gone up substantially. There are one million heroin users registered in India, with the overall estimate running to five million users. About 2.8 percent of Indians aged 10-75 years (3.1 crore individuals) consume cannabis (bhang, ganja and charas).

These users are from all strata of society, spread all across India. Why is it then that Bollywood and its stars are blamed for the exponential increase in drug abuse? Instead of the entertainment and music industry, I am using the brand ‘Bollywood’ because today it has come to mean everything in entertainment. Delhi has 25,000 school kids addicted to drugs. In some cases, even 8-year-old kids. Shouldn’t the state, school, society and parents be responsible for an 8-year-old kid getting addicted to cocaine? How can anyone still say that Bollywood is responsible for increasing addiction amongst the young? Because mostly it’s true.

Also read: The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Kids: Why Aryan Khan’s media trial is unfair, but hardly surprising

If you look closely around you, you will find that in the last decade or so, the use of substances has become ingrained in our cultures. Try imagining a celebration event, from a child’s birth to your grandparent’s 90th birthday to political events to religious events, without beer vendors or a wedding without a champagne toast, Bollywood fashion, Bollywood songs and Bollywood dance.

The acceptance of drugs and alcohol has rippled from films and music where addiction is glamorised and romanticised to an extent that it becomes compulsive MOFO. MOFO, because you are bombarded by the casual use of drugs and alcohol in movies and music. According to some American findings regarding the barrage of drug and alcohol use throughout the entertainment world include:

  • Drugs are present in nearly half of all music videos, including alcohol (35 percent), tobacco (10 percent), and illicit drugs (13 percent).
  • One drinking scene is shown on television every 22 minutes, 1 smoking scene every 57 minutes, and 1 illicit drug use scene every 112 minutes.
  • 71 percent of prime-time television programmes depict alcohol use, 19 percent depict tobacco use, 20 perent mention illicit drug use, and three percent depict illicit drug use.
  • More than 1/3 of all drinking scenes on television shows are humorous, while less than 1/4 of drinking scenes show any negative consequences.
  • The average teenager is exposed to nearly 85 drug references a day in popular music.
  • 40 percent of profiles on social networking websites reference substance abuse.

There are many studies that have shown that movies, TV and music can strongly influence the decisions of children and adolescents, as well as adults. The actions of celebrities have a major impact on our decisions.

Recent research in neuroscience has discovered that celebrity endorsements activate brain regions involved in making positive associations, building trust, and encoding memories. In this regard, our sources of entertainment significantly contribute to the risk that we will engage in substance use. Some of the research findings supporting this influence include:

  • Exposure to movie depictions of alcohol strongly predicts early onset of drinking and binge drinking in adolescents.
  • Increased consumption of popular music is associated with marijuana use.
  • Teens who watch adult movies are 6 times more likely to try marijuana.
  • Teens who spend time on a social networking site are twice as likely to use marijuana than teens who do not visit these sites.
  • Studies have also shown that the actions of celebrities can greatly influence the public’s health decisions.

Today, the media devotes hours and pages after pages to covering celebrity lifestyles and parties. Recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many celebrities posted their photos holidaying in the Maldives and as soon as travel restrictions were lifted, the island nation was flooded with young, middle-class, Indian tourists.

The lifestyles of the rich and famous often include heavy drinking, illicit drug use, and risky behaviour. The problem with the spotlight is that it comes with a lot of pressure and judgement from others. Not everyone is able to successfully cope with it, so they turn to drugs or alcohol instead. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry, 13.7 percent of people used an illicit drug in the past month.

Movies are not the only source of drug addiction in the entertainment industry. Many artists sing about drug use in their songs and almost seem to be bragging. As a director on the board of CBFC, I have reviewed many Punjabi and Hindi songs that glamourise and promote alcohol and drugs amongst the youth.

It’s no secret that a lot of celebrities have a tendency for drug use. Famous singers, rappers, actors, and others in the entertainment industry are generally open about their habits, and this is made evident through their music and documented social behaviours. We’ve seen it in television shows, movies, music videos, and even in their personal content on social media. Whether the drug use is blatant or serves a purpose in a storyline, both of these aspects prompt the question: does Bollywood culture glamorise drug abuse? The answer is emphatic “Yes”.

When you think of Bollywood or any entertainment industry, what comes to your mind? Celebrities with a glamorous lifestyle, money, parties, designer clothes, luxury cars, sex and addiction. Celebrities are often seen in social activities that involve outings, appearances at clubs, parties, paid vacations, etc. Two things that are common in all these outings are drugs and alcohol. Young people, who are easily influenced, are led to believe that:

  • Success earns you the right to confidently engage in substance use
  • Celebrities are doing it, so you can too
  • Drugs and alcohol aren’t derailing their lives, so it won’t adversely affect your own

When Miley Cyrus posts photos of herself on Instagram using hashtags such as “#drugaddict” and “#alcoholic” or rappers Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg constantly post and discuss their affinity toward marijuana, such content causes normalisation of drug abuse.

I think drug abuse is a complex issue and since Bollywood is at the centre of all the media spotlight, it’s critical and wise that celebrities behave responsibly and present social conduct which inspires the young to be creative and filmmakers ensure that they don’t glamourise or normalise drug abuse. I am sure today, Shah Rukh Khan and Aryan Khan would agree with me.

The writer is a national award-winning filmmaker, bestselling author and Creative Guru. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri. Views expressed are personal.

Original posted at www.firstpost.com

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