Though the Supreme Court has ruled that the national anthem is to be played in movie theatres, before the movie is played—with attendant orders of displaying the national flag on screen, ensuring that exits are shut when it is being played to avoid any disrespect, however unintended, with people walking in or out mid-recitation—it would have done better to refer to the Orders Relating to the National Anthem of India (Orders), that can be found on the Union home ministry website.
The Orders have a list of all occasions when the anthem is to be played (as opposed to sung) or its playing is merited, and “before a movie, in a cinema-hall” is definitely not one of those. More importantly, the orders say, “it has been left to the good sense of the people not to indulge in indiscriminate singing or playing of the anthem”. This rather germane guideline seems to have somehow missed the apex court’s attention.
Given more weighty matters await its attention, the Supreme Court should have best left the matter of whether the national anthem is to be played in cinema halls to the government. Instead, the two-judge bench has—in times when nationalism and patriotism have become clubs to beat up even legitimate dissent or difference—ruled that the anthem is to precede the playing of the movie and observed, “When the national anthem is played, it is imperative for everyone to show honour and respect. It would instil … patriotism and nationalism.” The problem is the SC order, in a broader sense, achieves the exact opposite.
It is hard to comprehend how playing the national anthem and following it up immediately with a movie like, say, Grand Masti— or even an X-rated production—keeps up the spirit of nationalism and honouring the national anthem. Also, even when there is no risque content in the feature that follows the anthem, will not forcing an audience that has come to relax and unwind to stand to attention—hopefully, those with disabilities will be exempted—at best, foster reluctant patriotism?