“Aap apni freedom sambhal ke rakhna (Take care of freedom carefully),” the protagonists of Habib Faisal’s Qaidi Band caution their audience in the trailer. Starring debutantes Aadar Jain and Anya Singh, the August 25 release narrates the stories of seven innocent undertrials who form a music band in prison in the hopes of being released for good conduct.
Faisal echoes the same sentiments as his impassioned inmates. “Freedom is taken for granted in the country,” Faisal told Scroll.in in an interview. “We are a country that struggled so hard for achieving freedom. Every 15th of August, we do honour the day by doing a performative ceremony, but how much do we value freedom?”
The director conceptualised the story by drawing on Tihar jail’s popular music band Flying souls. “What fascinated me the most about the band was that a lot of the inmates were wearing civilian/regular clothes and not convict uniforms,” Faisal said. “Through that I got to know that there was a huge undertrial population. I wanted to create something around that and once I started doing research, I got know the horrors behind the undertrial system in India.”
The director called out the inability of the judicial system to address the legal needs of the country’s population and the dearth of judges. “The film deals with people who are either innocent or have committed petty crimes due to societal pressure,” he said.
The writer and director cited the distressing experiences of Assamese undertrial Machang Lalung as pivotal towards pushing him to explore the issue. Lalung spent 54 years in prison, after which he was finally acquitted and proven innocent in 2005.
Qaidi Band is headlined by new faces. “Once the screenplay was ready, it became clear to me that to be able to create this world in an organic way, ideally it should not have any hangover of stars,” Faisal said. “The actors were put through workshops. Aadar was among ten other young men in the audition, where we wanted to see how each one one of them behaved in a group of actors.”
Qaidi Band is not the only film that merges the themes of music and wrongful imprisonment. Ranjit Tiwari’s September 15 release Lucknow Central, starring Farhan Akthar and Diana Penty, is also about a group of inmates forming a band in prison. Faisal, however, maintained that no two films can be the same.
“I don’t know what themes Lucknow Central is exploring, because the same story can be explored in different themes,” he said. “The fact that two people were thinking of making a film with this element of a band is quite natural. Because most of us filmmakers get inspired by the stories around us.”
Before directing Ishaqzaade (2012) and Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) for Qaidi Band producer Yash Raj Films, Faisal made his debut with the Rishi Kapoor-Neetu Kapoor starrer Do Dooni Chaar (2010). “When Do Dooni Chaar released, Bela Negi’s Daayen Ya Baayen too rolled out, which told the tale of a teacher getting a car,” he explained. “I had no clue that a film like that was being made. Ali Abbas Zafar was thinking of a story about wrestling and so was Nitesh Tiwary. And both Sultan and Dangal were very engaging films and they found their own audience. Similarly I am looking forward to watching Lucknow Central.”