Cast: Aadar Jain, Anya Singh, Mikhail Yawalkar, Anna Ador
Director: Habib Faisal
Rating: 3 Stars
The plight of undertrials whose prison stay drags on endlessly owing to their inability to get court dates: that is the thematic burden of writer-director Habib Faisal’s Qaidi Band. Doubtless, the film’s intent is beyond reproach, as is its decision to position music as a tool in the fight for freedom by victims of a lax, overstretched judicial system. Qaidi Band drums up the right rhythms in the first half, laying before the audience the sad stories of seven individuals who luck out when their musical talents bring them together and ignite their suppressed dreams. The second half isn’t quite that good. It veers towards avoidable melodrama. The blend of social concern and tried and tested tics is somewhat awkward, if not outright ineffectual.
The film introduces us to a world that we do not see often enough in a vein quite this realistic: that of defenceless jail inmates at the receiving end of constant mental and physical abuse. They struggle to protect their sanity and dignity in the face of widespread apathy. Especially vulnerable are those that are incarcerated on unproven charges and await a final call on their fate.
Qaidi Band zeroes in on one such bunch of no-hopers who get to form a band for an I-Day concert in the jail. When the anthemic number they play – “I am India” – goes viral, their popularity soars. But instead of working to their advantage, their newfound fame makes them fair game for a cynical politician who wants them to remain imprisoned so that he can use their growing mass appeal to garner votes in an upcoming election.
begins to see life in a new light when he befriends fellow inmate Bindu (first-timer Anya Singh). The feisty girl lives in hope that freedom is around the corner. Sanju isn’t so sure. But the band, which includes the African Ogu (Peter Muxxa Manuel), the Belarussian Tatiana (Anna Ador), Naga girl Sange (Cyndy Khojol), Sikh boy Maskeen (Prince Parvinder Singh) and the group’s poet and composer Rufi Ahmed (Mikhail Yawalkar), seeks more than the chance to make music and be heard.
But there are many hurdles in their path and the fight winds its way through several maudlin passages involving the young lead pair and their pals before the eventual denouement. The problems they face spring from reality, but the solutions they find are far too simplistic to be entirely convincing. But, then, who wants these hapless blokes to end up badly?
Among the veterans in the cast, Sachin Pilgaonkar, playing the jail warden, makes the strongest impression. Ram Kapoor has a cameo as a lawyer who comes to the aid of the band in a situation that is entirely contrived.
Qaidi Band strikes the right notes and therefore merits applause. But a more nuanced approach would have prevented it from erring on the side of overt preachiness. It makes no sense when a music performance is interrupted to allow a couple of characters to launch into speeches highlighting the woes of undertrials. It is difficult to fathom if such a full-blown verbal assault is at all needed when the film has already made its point many times over and in no uncertain terms.