To stand or not to standThe idea of compelling people to stand up for the national anthem in a cinema hall is bizarre, condescending and undemocratic.
In 2014, a sudden blaring of the national anthem inside a cinema hall baffled several moviegoers, including myself. The movie to be screened was Talakjung vs Tulke, directed by Nischal Basnet and jointly produced by Shatkon Arts and Black Horse. Impulsive as it seemed, almost all attendees rose to their feet and paid heed to the ceremonial custom. I was one of them. But, as I stood up, I instinctively perceived the situation as a mockery and an ostentatious gimmick run by the production house. The makers' attempt to induce a collective emotion in the audience before the screening came as an awkward surprise. Thankfully, I was not the only one who found the charade futile. A few others carried their disdain even after the show.
In 2016, in India, Aamir Khan starrer Dangal too used a similar ploy but in an entirely different manner. Towards the end of the movie, as Geeta Phogat won the gold and the anthem soared in the background, several Indians innately stood up for the national tune, out of emotion. Many even took up to social media to share their out-of-body experiences in the cinemas. Although the purpose of the ploy can be argued and seen through a separate lens, one can easily be convinced that the latter did it in a creatively entwined style.
What's the difference? One felt forced; the other appeared spontaneous.
In 2019, five years after the trivial incident, standing up for the national anthem in movie theatres is making a comeback—this time not as a marketing gimmick, but as an ordinance from the state authorities. The government has decided to make it mandatory for every cinema hall to play the national anthem prior to any screening. This will take effect from September 20—Constitution Day.
The idea of compelling people to stand up for the national anthem in a cinema hall is bizarre, condescending and undemocratic. The archaic fashion of instilling patriotism through such feeble ways holds no permanence and verity. Even in India, the Supreme Court—after realising the widespread arguments, controversies and turmoil surrounding the protocol—reversed its own order, allowing cinemas to take the playing as an optional custom. So, bringing a tried and refused practice in our context, similar to the neighbouring nation, makes no sense at all.
But, here's the concerning question: why shouldn't we stand up for the national anthem in a cinema hall?
Let me defend, first as a cinephile. Someone who buys tickets to watch a farce flick would feel contrived to hear the national anthem, right at the beginning, which might put the person in a manufactured solemnity. Or, picture people standing up for the anthem holding trays, stuffed with nachos and beverages, in their hands. It only trivialises the substance and significance of the national anthem itself. Simply put, the idea of standing up for the anthem before a movie spoils the experience of watching a movie. People have different motives to go to a theatre; some might go for an escape, some might go for entertainment, and some might even go for education. Irrespective of the varying reasons, one objective is quite common between all goers: the experience. The cinema viewing experience is accumulated through multiple factors like preference, company, quality and, most importantly, the comfort of the viewers. Hence, forcing a phenomenon that is unhabituated might irk the frequenters.
Besides sounding frivolous, the edict issued by the government isn't clear holistically. The order says that cinemas have to play the anthem before each screening. What happens when a cinema hosts film festivals having more than a dozen screenings a day? Should audiences listen to and rise for the anthem every time? In 2016, an international film festival held in Kerala, India, followed the same tiresome ordeal, mainly due to a stringent law regarding the playing of the national anthem. Several who protested during the event were later arrested on the charges of 'failure to obey an order issued by a public servant.' Therefore, an absent-mindedly passed order can invite confusion and chaos at any time.
To make matters even worse, confusion and constriction in government moves aren't entirely new these days. The current whimsical decision comes as a part of a series of errs initiated by the Oli-led government. Right from the Media Council Bill and the Guthi Bill, to the curbing of press freedom and imposing restrictions on foreign films, the government has been completely misinterpreting the multifarious aspects of autonomy. Leveraging on his miscues, many have accused Oli of carrying the remains of the Panchayat's autocratic regime, and the current move certainly takes him one step closer to the past. Primarily, the overarching concern revolves around the intention indicated by the incumbent government. The persistent effort in presenting a singular narrative of patriotism is problematic. This makes any rational dissent look anti-national, just like what's been happening in India for the past couple of years. Infringements like these not only curb progressive ideas but also create an air of suspicion regarding any possible ulterior motive of the government—which might be catastrophic for the welfare of an open and free society.
But, overlooking these practical reasonings, the government seems to be fascinated with its foolhardy exercises in pushing its citizens to a moral conundrum. The recent one: to stand or not to stand for the national anthem in a cinema.
What do you think?
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