Glamorizing or keeping it real?: The intoxicating drug connect in Bollywood films

As the narrative about drug usage within Bollywood deepens with the whole drug cartel debates taking over the prime time scenes, it has been wither a major theme or in a scattered way limited to a few scenes. From drug usage, drug dealing to drug trafficking, these have always founds its way in the mainstream Hindi cinema with films such as Dev D (2009), Page 3 (2005), Udta Punjab (2016), Sanju (2018), Fukrey (2013), Go Goa Gone (2013), Fashion (2008), Shaitan (2011) to name a few. But when it comes to dealing with the substance abuse and drug addiction, what are the dos and don’ts that one has to keep in mind?

Director Bejoy Nambiar, whose film Shaitan had instances of drug usage, says that it depends from story to story and no one really puts a drug angle to glamorize it but to just give the audiences a dose of reality.

“We used to angle because it was pertinent to the story. But we also made sure that we keep within the censorship guidelines that we have been following for decades now. That is also how we actually start writing a story. I had the same parameters when I was making Shaitan, subconsciously I made sure that it is passed for viewing yet not dilute what we are trying to say through our film.”

It gets especially difficult for actors who have to enact those scenes and get into the skin of a character who uses drugs. Actor Akshay Oberoi’s recent performance as a menacing drug-addict villain in a web series and he says that it is not so easy to pull off such characters.

“The only thing you can do is read as much as you possibly can about the drug and talk to people who have tried it and know something about the drug. Being an actor means being you have to be a very good detective. So that’s what I did, I kept constantly talking about it, reading things ,watch videos and talking to people from all walks of life that have tried drugs and willing to talk to me about it,” he shares.

But there is a very thin line between showing it and glorifying it and one must not fall into the trap of the latter, feels filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri.

“One must be extra cautious when opting to deal with the matter of drugs and substance abuse. Make real-life stories but just don’t go overboard with it. You never know the influence that can have,” he adds.

And that is what Fukrey director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba says he did when he made the film in which Richa Chadha’s character is a drug peddler and a scene about a rave party.

“At no given point did we ever show the use of drugs in a good way in the film. The message was clear in the end that we are not promoting it and it is not a good thing. The intent of any filmmaker is not to promote the use of any particular substance. It is used only when needed for the scene or the story or any character. Nobody makes a film . to promote the culture of using drugs. The debate of what influences what- films influences reale life of vice versa- has been going on for while now,” Lamba points out.

So now that the lens has zoomed in on the whole drug matter, will future films refrain from the subject?“Personally I don’t believe that it will affect future such stories, if that was the case then we would never show violence in the film. It is about how you show it in a way to make it palatable for the audiences. This kind of narrative can’t change the way you start doing things,” concludes Nambiar.

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