India Release of Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’ Cancelled Over Anti-Smoking Ads

It’s been a topic of discussion in the US for decades: Does Hollywood have an obligation to send a message to its audience that it does not, in fact, encourage people to engage in vices often depicted in the movies? In India, the answer to this question, at least as it relates to cigarette smoking, is “yes”.

By law, before every movie shown in India — whether it is made there or not  — an anti-tobacco PSA made by the Indian Ministry of Health is screened, and during the movie itself, an anti-tobacco message is inserted into in any scene in which characters are seen smoking.

*Cue age-old debate about whether there should also be PSAs telling viewers not to drink, commit grand larceny, murder someone, or attempt magic, when those things are also depicted in movies*

Woody Allen‘s new film, “Blue Jasmine, which stars Cate Blanchett, was set to be released in India by PVR Pictures this past weekend. The release was cancelled, however, after Allen reportedly refused to comply with the PSA law.

“Woody Allen has creative control as per the (distribution) agreement,” PVR Pictures COO Deepak Sharma told India’s DNA newspaper. “He wasn’t comfortable with the disclaimer that we are required to run when some smoking scene is shown in films. He feels that when the scroll comes, attention goes to it rather than the scene.”

We’d venture to speculate that in this particular case,  if only the pre-screening PSA were required, rather than disclaimers actually being inserted into the film itself, perhaps it wouldn’t have been as much of a problem for the filmmaker. After all, one is introducing the work of art in a specific context, while the other is actually altering the work.

This casts new light on a few old questions: Where does art end, and advertising begin (especially in the days of product placement)? And what exactly is the obligation of writers, artists, performers, etc. when it comes to sending messages — intentional or unintentional — to their audiences?