A resident of Kandivali, a western suburb of Mumbai, had a taste of a script gone awry when he was heckled out of a suburban cinema hall for refusing to stand up for the national anthem played before the screening.
While the 26-year-old, Neeraj Pandey, and his friends were peacefully ushered out of the theatre in Goregaon by a manager, the incident sparked a little melee, with some people taking his side and getting into a verbal duel with those asking them to leave. The police have recorded Pandey’s statement and are willing to lodge a complaint if he approaches them.
In November, a few people were told to leave a cinema hall in Kurla, a central suburb, after they refused to stand up for the national anthem. Pandey, an aspiring poet and scriptwriter, had gone to a theatre in Goregaon with two friends for a Tuesday afternoon show of the film Wazir.
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“A few seconds before the national anthem began, a couple of people behind me asked why I was still sitting,” he said. “Soon, a few others joined in and started shouting; they said I was disrespecting the national anthem and asked me to leave.”
Before Pandey could respond, another group sprang to his defence, saying there was no reason why he should leave the hall when he had paid for the tickets. “The two groups soon started fighting. It was bizarre,” Pandey said. He said the theatre management gave him tickets for the same movie for the following day. He watched the film on Wednesday, but took caution: “I waited outside the hall during the national anthem to avoid any controversy. I walked in only afterward. This is what I will do in future.”
Pandey said he did not stand up since he “did not feel like it”. “I have the liberty to do so,” he contended. “There have been a few occasions earlier that I did not stand up for the anthem but didn’t face any problem.” He said forcing others to stand up for the national anthem is acting under a false sense of patriotism.
The man from Bihar, who moved to Mumbai about eight or nine months ago after living in Bengaluru and Delhi, said he does not want to be portrayed as either a victim or as a hero. “I don’t want to gain mileage. I am just glad that people came to my support. I am told some lawyers are in the process of drafting a PIL to get rid of this rule of playing the national anthem before screening of each movie. I want to be part of this move,” he said.
Varun Grover, writer-lyricist of Masaan and Gangs of Wasseypur, among others, said Pandey is working on a couple of scripts and has had his poems published in a collection last year. DCP, Zone XII, M Ram Kumar said, “Pandey came to the police station, we recorded his statement and let him go.”