Free Press Journal

Why is national anthem even ‘optional’ in cinema halls?


There seems to be utter confusion about the playing of the national anthem in cinema halls. Now, they don’t want to compulsorily play it before the screening of films. Very good, then. Playing of the national anthem was enforced universally in all cinema halls following the Supreme Court order in November 2016. Since then, there have been several incidents of violence and recriminations between patrons over the lack of respect shown by some people when the jana gana mana… was played on the cinema hall’s screen.

Many more patrons were caught midway, standing in the doors or in aisles when it was being played. It was not the best way to show respect to the national anthem. Those prone to take matters into their hands tended to berate even the old and the infirm who were unable to stand when the anthem was played. All in all, not a very conducive setting for displaying a spirit of collective patriotism, especially when you are out for entertainment with family and friends and don’t want a public display of patriotic fervor injected into the proceedings. A little over a year later, the Government seems to have reconsidered its position.

It no longer wants playing of the anthem compulsory. But, the SC order making its playing optional, too, is bound to cause problems, with the more assertive ‘patriots’ likely to question the owners whose cinema halls no long play the national anthem at the start of a movie. On Tuesday, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra replaced the word ‘shall’ in the November 2016 order to ‘may’ and decided to await the recommendations of a 12-member inter-ministerial committee on the singing and screening of the national anthem.

Contrary to the malicious propaganda that the national anthem was part of the Sangh Parivar’s cultural nationalism project, the first time the cinema halls across the country were enjoined upon to play the national anthem was in the wake of the 1962 war with China. The practice had continued for several years and was discontinued when a series of reports showed how the cine-goers paid scant attention and sneaked out of the theatres while it was being played. Imbuing a robust sense of patriotism in people anyway is not such a bad idea, especially if it helps making better citizens of us all. And if the RSS does it with the avowed objective of making all Indians, and the operative word is ‘all’, good and law-abiding patriots, it should be most welcome.

Unfortunately, patriotism is far more than standing up while the cinema screen plays the national anthem. It means being a good citizen, being mindful of the obligations of citizenship and not merely harping on enjoying the rights of citizenship. Showing respect to the national anthem and the national flag is not any one person’s or one community’s duty alone. Therefore, neither the courts nor the government should create a situation whereby people are demonstrably unmindful of the national anthem being played.

Nor should it look as if patriotism is being thrust down the gullets of the cine-goers against their wishes. A cinema hall is neither the place nor the occasion for playing the national anthem. Yes, playing of the national anthem ought to be made compulsory in schools and madrasas before the start of the classes. Even at mass sporting events, national anthem can be played provided everyone stands up and sings along as they do in a number of western countries or as is done at international sporting events when the anthems of the competing nations are played before the start of the contest and everyone stands up and shows due respect.

Unfortunately, the debate around the national anthem and the national flag has come to be seen from the narrow prism of partisan politics, with the secularist crowd espying a hidden RSS hand whenever there is talk of imbuing a greater sense of patriotism, nay, citizenship on Indians.  The national project ought not to be made a victim of the prejudiced and partisanship of the secularist-leftist crowd. As a relatively young Republic, we need to do all that is possible to make good citizens of all Indians.