The ongoing debate on whether standing for the national anthem should be made compulsory — or if it should be a personal choice — is unending. Recently, during one of the film screenings at the 14th edition of the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF), the question popped up again. The fest that got over on Thursday ended on a disappointing note.
A law student, Shreela, her mother and Loyola College alumni Bejon were detained and booked for allegedly showing disrespect to the national anthem at a cinema hall in the city. Irked by the volunteers’ attitude during the screening of the film, Shreela and a few of her friends decided to raise their voice against them at an event held at Casino Theatre on Thursday.
“International film festivals are a celebration of films from different parts of the country. There will be delegates from various countries and there are a lot of foreign nationals coming to watch the films. Volunteers asking us to leave the cinema hall and taking away our passes for not standing while the anthem played, is not acceptable. This is so absurd,” says Shreela, adding, “Most of the audience was defending us, but we didn’t get any support from the volunteers.”
She questions, “We thought world cinema stood for freedom of thought, free expression, tolerance and democracy. What does the CIFF stand for? Instead of promoting and supporting art, why did a few people force someone to stand while the anthem played? Unfortunately, there were some miscreants among the audience. The volunteers were also supportive of them.”
Though Shreela and her friends contacted the organisers, they didn’t want to harbour any responsibility and washed their hands off the issue. “They said that no such instruction were given to the volunteers. We contacted actors Nasser and Rohini. They were sympathetic towards us, but I don’t think they can do much more than that!” Shreela adds.
We contacted one of the organisers, actress Suhasini Maniratnam, and she shared, “This has nothing to do with the CIFF organisers and the volunteers. We are not interfering with it. It was the audience there who raised a complaint against them.”
Founder of Tamizh Studios, Arun, considers film festivals a venue where different cultures meet. “It is more of a cultural activity and there is no need to mix it with nationalism. Also, it is stupid to instill patriotism in people. Definitely not during a film festival! Do you think any country would play their national anthem during such festivals? We are screening movies from around the world and people from different countries are watching it. Why should they stand for our anthem?” he asks.
Though tight-lipped, one of the SPI Cinemas officials says, “According to the Supreme Court order — before screening any movies, irrespective of language, it is compulsory to play the national anthem. We just followed the order.”...