The National Anthem in theatres might have its roots in Socialism

When I lived in China, I heard many stories of life during the Cultural Revolution. One of them was related to me by a colleague of mine. It was 1998 and the Titanic was one of the 10 international films released in China during the time. Imagine that the quota for the entire year was 10 films! It was almost like there was a quota on entertainment which had to be carefully rationed out like everything else.

Then my colleague related a heart-warming story. During the Cultural Revolution, I believe her mother went out wearing a beautiful blue dress, a dark coat and high heeled shoes. Later in the evening, she had the misfortune of being spotted by a few Red Guards who stopped her for her attire. Remember this was the time when the people were almost in uniform and it would have been difficult to even distinguish between a man and a woman. Instantly they took charge of her coat and high heeled shoes and she had to walk home about 7 km in snow during a heavy Beijing winter.

Although not perhaps explicitly stated in any clouded Marxian document, being well dressed would be considered prohibitively capitalistic and wasteful. Luxury is not necessarily a good word in traditional socialistic systems. Also, why should one person look better than another? Aren’t we all supposed to be dressed alike in the same uniform under socialist thought. So was the consumption of  any entertainment. After all, how does it help the welfare of the State? Or help factories to produce more goods? Or increase the wealth of the people? Again in some unsaid way,  glory as a result of suffering is deeply embedded in socialist thought. And is considered heroic.

That kind of thinking might remind you of why your Marxist friends in college always wore khaddar kurtas and pajamas with a jhola strapped around their shoulders while sporting Leninist beards! They all did look alike. And the only reason for hating Maynard Keynes in spite of the world celebrating him as a great economist, was the rather depressing fact that Keynes, in fact, had never read Marx and dismissed Das Capital as an outdated document.

Mid last year China sent shockwaves by banning live video streaming on the major online channels because it was not possible to censor streaming content.


India’s Pseudo-Socialism

During the 50s and 60s when Nehru with his henchman economic advisor PC Mahalanobis was steering India towards pseudo-socialistic thought, playing the national anthem became mandatory. Unsaid behind the dictat were two important principles:

  1. You are about to enjoy yourself while watching a movie, and any overt enjoyment and entertainment have capitalistic overtones.
  2. The least you can do under the circumstances is to remember your motherland as an obeisance, before you embark on this journey of enjoyment.
  3. Standing together does a lot for nationalism and patriotism which in socialistic economies is pretty much enforced.

Since then the practice has continued and Indians never questioned why  other countries don’t have such an unusual ritual.

So the Supreme Court judgment on playing the national anthem in theatres discretionary ,may well have a deeper meaning. That India is shedding some of the last remnants of socialist thought inflicted on us after Independence.

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Featured image courtesy BBC

Prabhakar Mundkur has spent 40 years in advertising and worked in India, Africa and Asia. He is currently Chief Mentor with HGS Interactive a part of HGS in the Hinduja Group. He is on the advisory board of Sol 's Arc ( ) an NGO dedicated to special education for intellectually challenged children. He is also a member of Whiteboard ( ) which supports senior management of NGOs in financial management, PR, Communication and HR through pro bono expertise.

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