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Why Play The National Anthem In Cinema Halls? Vidya Balan Questions And She’s So Right

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There is a saying that goes, ‘respect must always be earned and not demanded.” And there are many sayings that are mainly preachy, but this one is good enough to practice. For a magnitude of reasons at that too. A concept that did not resonate with India for the longest time, especially when the Supreme Court passed a ruling in 2016 for national anthem to be played in cinema halls before the movie starts.

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First things first, in case I am coming off as an anti-nationalist, let me stop you right there and clarify that I love to be an Indian and take pride in my nationality. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still believe for there to be a right time and place for everything to happen. There is a right time to react, the right place to express your feelings and definitely a right and more appropriate time to play on people’s nationalistic sentiments, than in a movie theatre. Especially because this involves juggling and perform complex acrobatics of putting the popcorn down, stop the squeezing of the ketchup and putting the coke in the right place. A thought that almost everyone agrees on, including Vidya Balan. The actress recently came forward to talk about how she  feels that there is no need to integrate nationalism with cinema halls, but with cinema instead.

The Mission Mangal lead, while in an interview said, “It (nationalism) should be there in the cinema and not in cinema halls.” And she wasn’t wrong when she said it. The government, when it passed the ruling to make it a compulsion, argued that it would “instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism” in people and honestly, it was one of the most counterproductive acts ever.

It was equivalent to forcing a sentiment, a feeling onto people and making a mockery out of the entire system, for if you really have to ‘make’ anyone do anything, are you even doing it right? After all, playing the national anthem needs to be a celebration, not a compulsion. We get it, the feeling of unity seeps into every Indian soul when they hear the national anthem and the reaction to stand up straight and with our chin up, is almost a reflexive. But what after that? Almost everyone in the theater, is seemingly annoyed at the idea of having to stand up right when you settle in, and that feeling of pride momentary, and for a mandate that serves no purpose at all.

Playing the anthem at diplomatic events, in international or national games, during important days, still makes sense for it magnifies that feeling of national pride, therefore manifesting the respect that comes from within. It isn’t just better suited there, it is better understood, resonated and reciprocated. But to want to forge and force that feeling on people before a movie, is to an extent, counter-intuitive. I mean, a person who is looking forward to watching a movie like Khaandani Shafakhana that is about a sex-clinic or is settling in to see Emran Hashmi get all steamy on the screen with his next co-star, would be in no way mentally equipped to foster feelings of nationalism.

And other movies, like Balan’s Mission Mangal or Batla House or Uri would anyway ignite the pride we have for the country with the kind of content and cinema they bring to us, with or without a national anthem playing in the background. And that is exactly what Vidya Balan meant when she spoke about it and said, “We need to question ourselves over how open-minded we are.” And in case we aren’t, now is a good time like any other to start.

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