Jana Gana Mana: Why we won't stand for one version of our national anthem

Before Jana Gana Mana plays in a movie hall, a sign blinks on the screen asking the audience members to stand in respect. This sign is usually accompanied by an unhappy rumble – nobody wants to get up. Audience members stand up ponderously, finding a place to prop up their popcorn and coke with difficulty, noisily put their bags on the floor and shifting around a little bit before finally standing to attention.

Movie theatres such as PVR, faced with the rule, have made it their mission to make the national anthem as involving as they can within the parameters of the song. Some have had a small army of television actors singing with fixed smiles; and another shows a school of physically challenged children reciting the anthem through sign language.

The recent example is PVR’s ‘crowd sourced’ national anthem. It shows a young rock band circulating a Youtube link to their performance of the song. Everyone who receives it stops and stands in respect, whether they’re doing yoga or waiting for their floor in an elevator lift.

 Jana Gana Mana: Why we wont stand for one version of our national anthem

A screengrab of the Youtube video of PVR's new crowd sourced national anthem. Image courtesy Facebook

Apparently, all these experimentation was not to the government’s liking. The Maharashtra government has asked colleges and multiplexes to “maintain uniformity while broadcasting, playing or singing the national anthem”. Protocol Minister Suresh Shetty has also said that a CD of the anthem, as it is played in the state legislature, will be issued to them to make sure there are no changes in the tune of the anthem.

"The version of the national anthem played in Parliament or the state legislature is how it's supposed to be sung. Government offices, schools, colleges and multiplexes can either play the CD we issue or use it to practise singing so that their tune and pitch are in keeping with the correct version of the anthem,” Shetty said, according to the Times of India

"I observed that the tune and the pitch of the national anthem was not consistent in educational institutes and theatres. A government resolution would be issued to ensure that the national anthem is played in eksur," Shetty said in the same article. "We will first focus on educational institutes and then on multiplexes." The head of an educational institution went on the commend the move in the article, saying that it would help “maintain the sanctity of the anthem.”

This move seems like an overreach on the part of the state government. At no point can the versions of the national anthem that are played in multiplexes said to be disrespectful – or for that matter, even bad. They do verge on the maudlin sometimes, but that would presumably be an occupational hazard during expressions of patriotism. In fact, for the most part, the ‘different’ versions seem to at least garner the wandering attention of the average movie-goer. That attention is a requirement for any ‘patriotic stirrings’ to happen, which is presumably the desired effect of the national anthem.

Secondly, different versions of the national anthem have been the norm for a long time. AR Rehman’s version is well known, and does not adhere to the ‘official’ 52-second length of the anthem. Besides this, in 2011, a version of Jana Gana Mana was launched by Pranab Mukherjee. This version was eight minutes long, set to different music and sung by 39 artistes.

TV channels, musicians, music labels and kids with guitars have all had different versions of the anthem. You just have to go on Youtube to find hundreds of versions of the song (as well as several tutorials on how to perform the song on a guitar). As long as the words and sentiment is the same, does it matter if the song is accompanied by drums or a flute?

The argument that can be made is that since cinemas and colleges are in the public domain, uniformity of the song should be maintained. But that actually serves the other side of the argument – because the anthem is being played to an audience who is already well-versed with the anthem, aren’t different versions meant for just such an audience?

The state has always handled patriotic expression of the public with kid gloves, as though it is something fragile that might break. However, this move is incredibly counter-productive. People were taking the anthem and making it their own, interpreting it in a way that had relevance to their own lives – but apparently that expression of individualism was the most unpatriotic of all.

Updated Date: Aug 08, 2013 18:33:09 IST