Film Review: Qaidi Band
The inspiration for Habib Faisal’s film came perhaps from the headline-making news of Machang Lalung, who spent 54 years in jail awaiting a trial for a crime which would have met with a maximum sentence of 10 years.
On the surface, Qaidi Band is about the formation of a band within a jail, comprising of prisoners who sing about freedom and the emotional upheaval accompanying their internment.
But the film is also trying to shed light on the terrible condition of prisons, the problems of a judicial system that serves justice too late and the value of a remedial system to rehabilitate the reformed and wrongly accused.
In spite of being loaded with all this gravitas, the inexperienced cast – Aadar Jain, Anya Singh, Prince Parvinder Singh, Peter Muxxa Manuel and Mikhail Yawalkar – largely flies with the material.
These actors are supported by more seasoned performers such as Sachin Pilgaonkar as the jailer and Ram Kapoor as a celebrated defence lawyer.
On the occasion of Independence Day, a band of undertrials is formed after a rounds of audition. This group of seven singers, musicians and backing vocalists perform a resoundingly patriotic number, which is filmed by news channels. Their song quickly goes viral and becomes a youth anthem. But Bindu (Anya Singh), Sanju (Jain), Maskeen (Prince Parvinder Singh), Ogu (Manuel), Rufi (Yawalkar), Tatyana (Anna Ador) and Sange (Cyndy Khojol) are unaware of their popularity.
Then, a local minister decides that this band’s songs are the key to his winning the youth vote. And so the band is reconstituted with the five remaining prisoners. Bindu and Sanju, who are immediately attracted to each other, have tasted bitter disappointment during their court dates.
Ogu, Maskeen and Rufi are also losing heart but their resistance falls on deaf ears and soon enough they are back to making music.
Through these characters, we peek into the desperate lives of undertrials trying to navigate a system designed to break their spirit. However, rather than leave it to the audience to discern and feel, circumstances are described and speeches delivered patronisingly. The script soon turns towards drama, a poorly planned escape and a convenient climax. Apparently YouTube fame, an audacious escape, a love story and a sob story is one way to get swift justice.
Faisal the director deserves more credit here than Faisal the writer. As director, Faisal is able to get his young actors to deliver respectably, with Anya Singh in particular standing out. Jain, on the other hand, with his trendy hairdo and acting school cheat-sheet, is less convincing as Sanju, the middle-class boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Amit Trivedi’s music should have been an inextricable part of the narrative but only “I Am India” and “Hulchul”, with their evocative lyrics, make any kind of impression. In the latter half of the film, a band of bad actors called Middle Finger pop up and serve as a pivot, but also as a diversion that represents all the clichés of the rock music subculture. The appearance and attitude rock music fans lining up to watch a live performance encapsulates the generational and cultural gap that Faisal is unable to bridge, though there’s clearly a wilful effort to speak to the youth.
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