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National anthem at movie halls: Who’s standing up, who’s raising questions

The national anthem has perhaps never raised as much noise as now. The Supreme Court’s ruling last month, making it mandatory for all movie theatres to play the song penned by Rabindranath Tagore before every show, has triggered a fierce debate and stoked passions.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2016 15:49 IST
HT Correspondents
An old man sleeps with his feet up as the national anthem is played at Prasad Cinema hall in Bareilly.
An old man sleeps with his feet up as the national anthem is played at Prasad Cinema hall in Bareilly.

The national anthem has perhaps never raised as much noise as now. The Supreme Court’s ruling last month, making it mandatory for all movie theatres to play the song penned by Rabindranath Tagore before every show, has triggered a fierce debate and stoked passions.

Twelve persons were briefly arrested in Thiruvananthapuram earlier this week after they refused to stand up for the anthem. Eight people were assaulted in Chennai a day earlier for having done the same.

The highest court’s order, intended to “instill a feeling within one a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism” was to be enforced across the country from December 10. HT reporters in several cities and towns went to the movies to get a reality check on how the order is being implemented.

Bolpur-Shantiniketan, West Bengal

“We are not playing the anthem,” said the owner of a theatre in the town where Tagore lived for much of his adult life and set up his dream Visva-Bharati, the seat of learning, which is now a university. “We are yet to receive reels or spools of the rendition. There are several specifications about rendering the song, including its duration. We cannot just play any version of it,” he added.

The audience trooped in and out of the two theatres, Chaitali and Gitanjali, without much fuss. None questioned why the anthem was not being played. They were too focused on the movies instead: ‘Kahaani 2’ in Gitanjali and Bengali flick ‘Amar Prem” in Chaitali.

KN Daga, vice-president of Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA), pleaded helplessness, saying only theatres that have the necessary technology are playing the anthem. “It is, however, not possible for me to say how many halls are playing it or whether the audience is cooperating.”

Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh

Mohammad Dilshad, one of the three gatekeepers at Prasad cinema hall, is the chief enforcer of patriotism. “Do pairon pe khade ho jao, (stand up on your two legs),” he shouts at the sparse audience that has trooped in for the John Abraham-starrer ‘Force 2’.

Most stand up, but some need further prodding. “Pehli line main lal sweater, jaldi khade ho jao (First line red sweater, stand quickly),” Dilshad tells a person in a red pullover who is somewhat tardy in getting up. The crowd takes the instructions sportingly, turning its gaze on a couple sitting at the rear. “Mohabbat baad main kar lena, abhi desh ke liye khade ho jao (Keep the romance for later, stand for the country now),” someone tells them and the rest laugh.

An elderly man reclining on his seat in the second row stayed motionless, refusing to get up. “Buddha aadmi hun, so gaya thaa (I am old, I was sleeping),” he sheepishly says later.

All three theatres in the town are playing the national anthem. Dilshad said he was doing his bit to enforce the court order. “It is my work to make people stand, but I cannot fight if some one does not.”

Tilda, Chhattisgarh

The mood is upbeat at Cineplex Raj, a theatre in the small town about 45 km from state capital Raipur. Minutes before a film in Chhattisgarhi dialect was to be screened, everyone stood up as an audio-visual rendition of Jana Gana Mana started.

Everyone kept quiet for the duration of the anthem. When it ended, a young boy broke the stillness, shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

Theatre-owners in the BJP-ruled state say playing the national anthem has been the norm for the last several years. Long before the Supreme Court stepped in, the state government had instructed theatres to screen a specially-shot video of the anthem sung by local celebrities.

“Everyone stands up. Sometimes some tribals from the interiors do not because they are not aware of the protocol,” said Puran Verma, manager of Cineplex Raj. “But we do not beat up anyone for not complying.”

Indore, Madhya Pradesh

The moment the message, “Please rise up for the nation anthem”, flashed across the screen, everyone at Carnival Cinema in the city’s Malhar Mega Mall stood up.

“This is welcome,” said Anjali Mishra, one of the many who had turned up for an early morning show of “Befikre” starring Ranveer Singh. “After completing our education, the national anthem vanishes from our lives. This decision has brought old memories flooding back,” she said, referring to the court ruling.

Aditya, a student agreed. “I believe that most people stand up out of respect. Many of our generation are not very nationalist but narrow-minded. This reminds us that we are one country,” he said.

Both Anjali and Aditya did their bit: Anjali stood still while Aditya sung the national anthem lustily as it played out.

Mumbai, Maharashtra

“I have two grown up boys. I am all for it,” said Shalini Gupta, a school teacher from Mumbai, where theatres have been playing the national anthem since 2003.

The Supreme Court order will expectedly reinforce the practice. “Nowadays, only kids in school hear the national anthem. For adults, cinema halls can become the place we hear it. That will connect us as Indians,” pointed out Dhruba Saha, a financial adviser.

However, the issue remains sensitive and enquiring about how well the court order is being enforced sent security guards at a theatre in a tizzy. “She is asking about the national anthem,” one of them told his superior on the phone.

It has spelt trouble as well at times. In January, Neeraj Pandey, a screenplay writer got thrown out of a suburban multiplex for not standing up to the anthem. “Who were they to yell at me and call me a Pakistani? I had a hard day and I was not in a good frame of mind, so I chose not to stand. But I love my country” he elaborated on the incident.

PV Sunil, CEO and director of Carnival Cinemas, said ushers are trained for any situation. “With the help of relevant messages on the screen and proper assistance from cinema staff, patrons are giving due respect to the national anthem,” he said.

(With inputs from Surojit Ghosh Hazra and Sreyasi Pal in West Bengal, Ritesh Mishra in Chhattisgarh, Kunal Borkhade and Winny Das in Madhya Pradesh, Chandan Kumar in Bareilly, Gayatri Belpathak and Alifya Poonawala in Mumbai)