Decision follows move by Indian distributors to bar Pakistani actors and technicians from working on Bollywood sets.
All cinemas must play the Indian national anthem before movie screenings and all exits will be shut during that time, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The Supreme Court panel, while giving out the ruling on Wednesday, said cinemas should display the national flag on the screen as the anthem is played, and that making people stand up would instil a “sense of patriotism”.
“The national anthem has to be played in cinema halls before the feature film is played with the national flag displayed on the screen,” said Abhinav Shrivastava, the lawyer for the private plaintiff in the case.
Many cinemas already play the national anthem before screenings, but only the western state of Maharashtra has made it mandatory to do so.
“The time has come, the citizens of the country realise that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to the national anthem,” the judgment said.
The issue of whether audiences should be made to stand has long been the subject of debate.
The ruling drew sharp criticism, with many saying it was a violation of civil liberties.
We are gonna play the National Anthem in a cinema before watching the Fifty Shades of Grey Sequel.
That makes sense.
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) November 30, 2016
The issue has long been controversial in India, where some liberals say freedom of speech is being stifled by the right-wing nationalist government currently in power.
“It is bad enough for the Supreme Court to scorn individual freedom. To do so on an issue as unserious and arbitrary as what should be done at cinema halls is terrible,” wrote Nitin Pai, founder of the Takshashila Institution think-tank, in a blog post.
Last month, a disabled man described how he was attacked in a cinema in western India for failing to stand for the anthem.
In January, a Bollywood scriptwriter was heckled inside a cinema in Mumbai after he refused to stand for the anthem.
C Kalyan, vice president of the Film Federation of India, said producers favoured the ruling as it would end the confusion.
Dear "liberals", SC is only asking you to show respect to your #NationalAnthem. Why think it will spoil your movie going experience?
— Manak Gupta (@manakgupta) November 30, 2016