Alcohol portrayal in Bollywood movies: enticing youth towards alcohol use in India 

[PHP Nepal Vol 3 Issue 9 September 2013] | The effects of alcohol advertising on the drinking behavior of young people have been studied more extensively over the past few years, worldwide. Messages imparted through TV shows, movies, mainstream music, and even everyday commercials are among the strongest influences on youth besides peers and families, environment and heredity, and other factors which contribute to one’s inclination towards drinking.

There is increasing evidence that exposure to large volumes of media portrayal of alcohol has an undesirable impact on drinking behavior, especially on youth. Portrayal of alcohol and tobacco in movies predisposes youth and adolescents to early onset of drinking and smoking habits. 

It is observed that youth who are exposed to more boozy scenes in movies are more prone to alcohol experimentation in the real life. A Surgeon General’s report published in the 2013 JAMA Pediatrics, demonstrated a causal relationship between depiction of alcohol use in movies and early onset of alcohol consumption among youth. 

Reportedly, alcohol portrayal in Bollywood movies (Indian cinema) is playing an instrumental role in influencing drinking habits of Indian youth. Alcohol depictions are common in these films, even in those intended for children and adolescents. These movies delivers the message that once one gets engaged in drinking behavior, one will be accepted as a part of “rich, sophisticated high society culture” where society idolizes and admires the people who are addicted to alcohol. 

Alcohol is depicted in a positive light where people are seen drinking at social gatherings (parties, marriages, festivals, functions etc.), loosening up with a glass of beer after exhaustive working hours, and indulging in romance among others. It gives an impression that boozing is the doorway through which popularity, desirability and ultimately happiness are easily achieved.  

Movie stars portray a glass of wine, whisky or beer in such an enticing manner which attracts youngsters to experiment with alcohol. These celebrities are also adored for their drinking practices in movies, pardoned when their actions result in troubles, thus may strengthen the idea that there are no consequences for drinking alcohol. 

Such portrayals are invisible but potentially effective in attracting youngsters towards drinking habits and also shape how youth perceive alcohol. Consequently, youngsters may start imitating their heroes and perceive drinking as socially acceptable. Youth is just not old enough, or mentally capable, to view the other side of the coin.

Over the past 15 years, alcohol consumption has increased by 12 -15% among youth (15-24 years age group) in India. A study conducted on students aged between 12-16 years found that the students most exposed to alcohol use in Bollywood movies were 2.78 times more likely to experiment with alcohol in real life than those who were least exposed (World Heart Federation, 2012). These results show that exposure to alcohol use portrayals in Bollywood films is directly associated with alcohol use among youth in India. 

Studies from developed countries have also shown that alcohol portrayal in Hollywood movies has a direct impact on alcohol consumption behavior of youth in real life. Bahk in his study conducted on college students aged 18-24 years explored a positive correlation (p< 0.05) between drinking in Hollywood films and alcohol consumption among youth in real life. The factors associated with drinking among these students as an outcome of watching such films included stress reduction and amusement in real life situations (Bahk, 2001).

Although alcohol advertizing is banned in all media by the law in India; still such scenes are depicted in Bollywood movies without concerns. In part, it is attributed to the absence of a dedicated health legislation which keeps check on such portrayals and takes necessary actions. Measures should be sought beyond alcohol regulation on paper and product packages. Public health experts should routinely advocate stringent law enforcement pertaining to media depiction of alcohol. 

Since there is a proven negative influence of alcohol consumption on youth, the rating system of movies glorifying or justifying alcohol use should be A-rated. Paid alcohol brand placement practice in movies targeting youth should be restricted or completely banned. Highlighting brand names of alcoholic beverages in movies should be banned; direct or indirect alcohol marketing, promotion and sponsorship activities targeting youth should be regulated in the movies as well.

Dr Himanshu Gupta is a Research Officer at Public Health Foundation of India in New Delhi, India.

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