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Coming Soon To Your Local Cinema In India: Court-Mandated Patriotism

A cricket fan waves the flag of India in 2012. Moviegoers in the country should expect to see much more of it when they catch the latest blockbuster.
Greg Wood
AFP/Getty Images
A cricket fan waves the flag of India in 2012. Moviegoers in the country should expect to see much more of it when they catch the latest blockbuster.

Indian moviegoers are set to get a hefty dose of patriotism with their big-screen previews.

According to an interim order handed down Wednesday by two justices on India's Supreme Court, movie theaters nationwide must play the country's national anthem before each feature film begins. What's more, the audience members must stand in observance, while an Indian flag is depicted on the big screen and the doors of the theater are temporarily closed to prevent distractions.

"The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag," the two-justice bench wrote in its order. Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy continued: "That apart, it would instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism."

The order will take effect 10 days from Wednesday. The court is expected to consider the issue again on Feb. 14.

Though the song "Jana Gana Mana" was adopted as the national anthem in 1950, it hasn't made a regular appearance in most Indian cinemas in decades. The last time the song was ordered to be played in cinemas nationwide was in the aftermath of India's 1962 war with China, the Hindustan Times reports — "but the practice was discontinued in 1975 after most moviegoers ignored it."

At the time of Wednesday's order, there was no national law on the books, leaving India's 29 states and eight union territories to sort out the matter for themselves. The states of Maharashtra and Goa already require the anthem to be played before films, according to The Guardian.

While it's not clear what the punishment for violating the order will be, the high court justices made reference to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971, which notes the following:

"Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both."

Justices Misra and Roy elaborated: "The citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality."

As The New York Times notes, the decision comes at a time of renewed nationalist feelings in the country, just months after the Indian army announced it had entered Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to launch attacks against alleged militants. "Anti-Pakistan sentiment has also reached the big screen after, a major Indian cinema group announced that it would no longer screen films that included Pakistani actors," the Times reports.

Still, despite the backing of the courts, this patriotic sentiment has been dogged by its perennial nemesis: snark. Shortly after the the court order was announced, many Indians took to social media to snipe with a few sarcastic barbs using the hashtag #NationalAnthem — including filmmaker Shirish Kunder, who had this question for the court:

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
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