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World

Indians Divided Over Law Requiring Cinemas To Play National Anthem

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

People who still see movies in the theater nowadays know to expect, before the film starts, for about 15 minutes, trailers for other movies, commercials, reminders to turn off your cellphone. Well, in India, there's a little something added. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED BAND: (Singing in foreign language).

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Before this Bollywood blockbuster about a dad training his daughters to be wrestlers bursts onto the screen, everyone rises as if on cue for this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JANA GANA MANA")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Hindi).

MCCARTHY: That's India's national anthem, which, by law, must now be featured before the start of every movie. And everyone in the cinema is required to stand while it's played. In a country that produces more than 1,000 films a year, that's a lot of standing. I asked salesmen Hemant Kumar Singh how he felt about the law of the land telling him to hop to at a movie.

Is that a good idea?

HEMANT KUMAR SINGH: Good idea - very good idea.

MCCARTHY: Why?

SINGH: (Speaking Hindi).

MCCARTHY: "People are getting cut off from their culture," Singh says. "And they're not aware of the importance of the anthem." India's constitution makes it a duty to protect the national anthem. If you interfere with the singing of it, another law says you can go to prison. You might think that's legislation enough - not for 77-year-old Shyam Narayan Chouksey.

SHYAM NARAYAN CHOUKSEY: (Speaking Hindi).

MCCARTHY: Fifteen years ago, Chouksey, a retired engineer, had been hooted down when he stood up in the movie theater while the anthem depicted in the film was playing. He said he was deeply hurt by the ridicule. And from that moment on, he's been seeking greater respect for the anthem. He's petitioned courts to instill a spirit of nationalism. And in late November, he won. India's Supreme Court agreed that the anthem was in need of a boost. The citizens must realize they live in a nation, the court wrote and said, patriotism does not allow the perception of individual rights.

NITIN PAI: It's kind of a national majoritarianism (ph), which says that there is this one highway which all Indians are supposed to walk on.

MCCARTHY: Nitin Pai directs the Takshashila Institution, which examines public policy. He says nationalist attitudes and insecurities about nationhood have been on the rise in India. Pai takes exception to the Supreme Court declaring the need for, quote, "people to feel this is my country, my motherland."

PAI: The idea that you have one single monolithic view of what patriotism is, what nationalism is or, indeed, what India is - it's just so un-Indian. It's just so un-Indian because if India is anything, it's a multitude. It's about diversity. It's about pluralism. It's about people finding and doing their own thing.

MCCARTHY: Pai says Indians also like a bit of mischief, like disobeying the law once in a while.

PAI: So I don't think this kind of regimented patriotism can stay and survive too long in a country that enjoys being unruly.

MCCARTHY: Back at the cinema, even the patriotism is a bit unruly.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCARTHY: In the film finale, the wrestler daughter wins her first international gold medal. As she steps to the podium to the swelling film score...

(SOUNDBITE OF RABINDRANATH TAGORE SONG, "JANA GANA MANA")

MCCARTHY: ...The theater audience leaps to its feet upon hearing India's national anthem.

(CHEERING)

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF RABINDRANATH TAGORE SONG, "JANA GANA MANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.