In Re: Ramachandra Guha on National Anthem in Cinema Halls

A Senior Advocate proclaimed recently:

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One wonders if ‘all present in the hall’ were not judicially urged to ‘stand up to show respect to the National Anthem’ whether there would be objections against playing of the anthem itself. (Turns out: Yes!)

This is especially important because very few have availed the opportunity to protest the mandated No-Smoking advertisements before a movie screening. Those protests, at best, have died down. If tomorrow, there were to be a law compelling performance of the National Anthem, overt or put-on acts of respect not being mandatory, and that law were to be challenged still before the Supreme Court on the ground that coerced patriotism has no role at the theatre – a place of ‘undiluted entertainment’, one would equally have to petition against the No-Smoking advertisements that spoil the experience of the cinema-goer. (Courts Beware!)

In the alternative one can agree that both the anthem and the health advertisements serve as a gentle governmental reminder, not lasting beyond a few minutes, against the several insalubrious and unpatriotic acts & emotions, that Indian Cinema is prone to showcase. One may even opt not to be reminded, by entering the hall late. Better still it will be appropriate if at least ten minutes are granted before the actual movie screening, for the audience to settle in their seats after they have consciously, physically avoided the features presented earlier.

It is interesting that Historian Ramachandra Guha has a clear objection against playing of the National Anthem itself:

“From the 1970s to the 1990s, and through the first decade-and-a-half of the 21st century as well, there was no attempt to cheapen the anthem. Rather, by singing or playing it only on occasions associated with important moments in our democratic life, the anthem was able to arouse, as JRD Tata had hoped, ‘deep patriotic respect for what it represents’. This sober and solid way of affirming one’s patriotism was however undermined last November, when, following a directive issued by the Supreme Court, the Government made the playing of the anthem compulsory before movie screenings… the most robust and enduring form of patriotism is voluntary and spontaneous, rather than organised and coerced.”

Respect to the National Anthem even in ‘important moments in our democratic life’ is neither necessarily voluntary nor spontaneous. A ‘sober and solid way of affirming one’s patriotism’ is thus reduced to personal and professional righteousness, as it should be:

“The greatest patriots do not need to sing the anthem or worship the flag every day. Rather, they promote freedom, equality, prosperity and pluralism in their personal and professional lives.”

[Similarly, ‘a robust and enduring form’ of proving concern for the health of others, is when a chain-smoker smokes only in private or in designated areas and not when she  sits through an advertisement.]

It is my limited point in the present case: if protests are to sustain against playing of the National Anthem, even if ‘standing up’ is not judicially mandated eventually, the theatres of this country must prepare to take off all other governmental features before a movie screening that are as much an interference. A cinema and writ enthusiast will certainly plead the same.

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In the months since November 30th last year, I have been to a cinema hall 36 times. Many of the times, with a crowded tray in my hand, I have discovered my philosophies stretch. If I do not ever touch the feet of any human being, I certainly do not causally connect, in my personal or professional space, ‘standing up’ with respect for the National Anthem. However, arguments against the very playing of it at the theatre, knowing I have suffered through other terribly unrelated features for some years now, is not a Real Casus Belli. I would side with the alternative proposed.

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