Patriotic concerns: Pak sarzameen shaad baad
KARACHI: Heads would reflexively bow down as the words “Saaya-e-Khuda-e-Zul Jalaal”, boom over loudspeakers, with most people up on their feet in respect and the ones still sitting feeling a bit guilty, as a dulled out video of Pakistan’s national anthem was played in cinemas, preceding feature films.
Much has changed for the country and the nation. The custom has ceased to be a standard practice anymore.
It is still unclear if the practice of not playing the national anthem is punishable under law because the continuously referred Film Ordinance, 1979, has no mention of it. The issue re-emerged recently as Fakhr-e-Alam, new chairman of the Sindh Censor Board, decided to take strict action against exhibitors who did not play the national anthem. “Even if there isn’t a law that makes it necessary, I’ll fight for one and make the playing of national anthem compulsory in all the cinemas,” Fakhr-e-Alam says.
How it all started
Nawab Hasan Siddiqi, a well known film critic during the golden days of Lollywood, believes that the trend began when there was no television. The information department would produce a five-minute newsreel every fortnight. All the exhibitors had to buy it for Rs40-50 and play it in cinemas.
“Since there was no TV, the newsreel was a recap of current affairs that began with the national anthem,” Siddiqi tells The Express Tribune.
Siddiqi recalls that after the 1965 war when import of Indian films was banned in Pakistan, the government had supplied a 30 minute version of the same newsreel called ‘Pakistani fauj kay jawan hain hum’ which was played in cinemas without the films .
“People used to come in large groups only to witness the epic war sequences of our army during the 1965 war and many of them came time and again,” he says.
In the 1980s Pakistani cinema declined. The information department too became extinct.
Anthems around the world
The tradition of playing national anthems varies from country to country. Some states make it a regulation by law and others let it be a free expression of national fervour. In Europe, the tradition of playing it in theatre halls dates from the 18th century when ‘God save the King’ was sung at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. In the US, they still play it in theatres on army bases and overseas but no longer in commercial theatres because the government’s power in the US is severely limited with regards to ‘speech’.
In India, Maharashtra is the only state where it is compulsory to play national anthem in cinemas.
National anthem cover?
Many cinemas in Pakistan today do not play the national anthem. While the reasons might range from plain ignorance to an indifference towards the national anthem, another factor is that the last version of the national anthem that was released on 35mm film print by the government has been lost.
“That is the real problem,” says Alam. “The cinemas that are playing the anthem are using internet downloaded versions which is certainly not in good taste.” Agreeing with him is Nadeem Mandviwala, the managing director of Atrium cinemas. “The presentation of our national anthem has become redundant with time and it should at least be of as good a quality as the film that follows it,” says Mandviwalla.
He has taken up the responsibility of getting the audiovisual quality of the Pakistani national anthem re-done with modern instrumentation so that the younger generation can associate to the anthem.
This newer version of the national anthem might be criticised for not being original but Alam is adamant to bring this change. “We must not become a hostage to the primitive mindset.”
Once the anthem is re-made, the Sind Censor Board will ask exhibitors in other provinces too to play it in their cinemas.