Should National Anthem be played in theaters has been a hot topic of debate since the honorable Supreme Court of India passed a law, that makes it compulsory to play the national anthem in all cinema halls, before the screening of a film, and that all individuals present in the cinema hall shall oblige by standing in an attention position as long as the anthem plays.
The Rule & The Revision
On Nov 30, 2016, Justice Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, who headed the bench that passed the decision, stated on record that playing the national anthem in the cinema hall would instill a feeling of nationalism and patriotism in the people present that, and that everyone needed to show respect to the anthem by standing up.
The ruling government had welcomed the court’s decision with open hands and dubbed it a “fantastic move.” However, the order was challenged by a film club in Kerala. The film club had argued that forcing cinemas to play the national anthem and insisting that people stood while it was being played “infringes fundamental rights” and talked about the false equivalence between an “outward show of respect” and an “actual sentiment of respect”.
The court had subsequently diluted the order to let the handicapped and the sick to sit through it. On October 23, 2017, while hearing the petition made by the film club, the court expressed concern over the manner in which its order was being misused to dub people “anti-national”. Having second thoughts about its previous decision, the court asked the government to take a call on it.
During the hearing in October 2017, Justice DY Chandrachud had criticized the government for supporting the previous order, saying, “Next, you will want people to stop wearing t-shirts and shorts to cinema halls, calling it disrespect to the national anthem.” “Where will this moral policing stop?”
In response, an inter-ministerial committee had been formed to frame guidelines on all aspects relating to the playing and singing of the national anthem by the Centre. The committee comprises of representatives from several ministries, such as law, defense, home, external affairs, culture, women and child development, I&B, parliamentary affairs, minorities, education, and disability. The supreme court has reversed its Nov 2016 order on 9 Jan 2018, in response to a government request to reconsider the controversial ruling. It’s been a year and so far no decision has been made yet.
Popular & Unpopular Opinions
Cinema halls are places of entertainment. We do not go there for showing our patriotism. Most people would be laden with popcorns, nachos, colas and what not, precariously perched on strategic positions. People go to the movies for undiluted entertainment. You can’t corner them in a movie theater and make them listen to the national anthem. Imagine having to listen to National Anthem before the screening of an ‘A’ rated movie. It is disrespectful to the National Anthem.
Moreover, the mandatory playing of National Anthem has made moviegoing a scary affair to many. In the wake of the rule, many people were targeted for not showing “respect” towards the national anthem. A few people were arrested on charges of sedition for refusing to stand for the anthem. The past few years have witnessed a growing intolerance among our countrymen. When a few people don’t stand up during National Anthem in theaters they are beaten up to death by the overzealous patriots.
Forced displays of patriotism give opportunities for mobs to become violent.
Many people believe that this particular brand of nationalism could be the stepping stone to even greater displays of forced patriotism. Some people fear that what will stop the powers that be from asking us to start carrying the national flag everywhere or saying ‘Vande Mataram’ instead of ‘Good Morning’.
The supporters have the view that if you are capable of standing in a queue for 15 minutes for a table in a restaurant without complaint, why can’t you stand up for 52 seconds while the national anthem is being played. Many people welcome the move by the apex court because they feel that respecting the national anthem gives us a moment to reflect about the freedom fighters who fought and sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our country.
There are 100 different ways we can show our patriotism, standing up for the National Anthem at movie theatres need not be one. Keeping our country clean, keeping our waterbodies clean, not defacing national monuments and government properties, obeying traffic and pedestrian laws, paying taxes on time, the list goes on. It is sad to notice that people who are very much enthusiastic about standing up for national anthem hardly pay heed to real acts of patriotism.
Forced patriotism has not worked well in the past and it does not bode well for the future as well. The love and respect should come from within and not just by singing the National Anthem at the beginning of a movie. It would be meaningful to let the anthem play in the movie halls on special days, like the Republic Day or Independence Day.
Around The World
Interestingly, ours is not the only country which plays the national anthem before a movie screening. In Thailand, the national anthem is played on TV at 8 AM and 6 PM every day. They also play the Royal Anthem in theatres to show respect towards their king.
Recently in Indonesia, the Youth and Sports Ministry issued a circular to play the national anthem, ‘Indonesia Raya’, before screening movies to boost nationalism and to create young generations who love their country. The circular was forwarded to the Office of the Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister, the Communications and Information Ministry and the Creative Economy Agency. A pictured of the signed draft went viral in social media garnering a lot of opposition. Owing to the backlash from social media, the circular was retracted on Feb 1, 2019, only two days after Minister Imam Nahrawi signed the draft.
The Irish used to play their national anthem after the screening of the movies. People used to rush out in the pause between the end of the movie and the start of the national anthem to avoid standing for the national anthem. This inspired Ray Bradbury to write a story called ‘The Anthem Sprinters’. The practice was later dropped in Ireland. I wonder how many of the most vocal supporters of this law would stick around if the National Anthem was played at the end and not the beginning.