Indian film star apologizes for smoking

India's top film star has apologized for movie billboards in which he bites on a lit cigar, but an anti-tobacco activist said Tuesday he would sue Amitabh Bachchan and a film producer over the ads. In a letter to Shekhar Salkar, secretary-general of the National Organization for Tobacco Eradication, Bachchan said he did not drink or smoke and had asked producers to remove the ads for his yet-to-be-released mobster movie "Family."

But Salkar, who served papers on Bachchan last week for violating a 2003 ban on tobacco advertising, said he would file a public interest legal action in the High Court against Bachchan and the film's producer. "I do not drink or smoke and I have not indulged in these activities for almost 30 years, and have no intentions of indulging in them in the future," Bachchan wrote. "The publicity banner carrying my photograph is a still from the film depicting the underworld character of a don."

Salkar said this case should be an example for India's movie industry, in which stars are frequently shown smoking cigarettes, or hand-rolled smokes called bidis. "I'm going ahead with the legal notice," Salkar told reporters in Panaji, the capital of the western state of Goa. "I want that this case should act as a deterrent to others."

Movie billboards and newspaper ads showing the gray-bearded star brandishing a cigar or biting on it were replaced with stills of him holding a gun immediately after Bachchan was served with a legal notice. Bachchan is the most recognizable face in India's thriving Hindi-language film industry, often called "Bollywood." He has appeared in more than 150 movies over three decades.

When he fell ill last year, fans crowded outside the Bombay hospital where he was being treated in and flocked to temples to pray for him. Actors smoking in movies has become a controversial issue in India, where the federal health ministry has announced a ban smoking on the big screen starting March 1. Several producers, directors and actors have said the ban limits their artistic freedom. Director Mahesh Bhatt has threatened to sue the health ministry for its action, reports the AP. N.U.

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