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‘Qaidi Band’ film review: A preachy but also affecting look at life on the inside

A music band formed in prison makes all the right noises about the state of undertrials in India.

Habib Faisal’s new movie Qaidi Band is a very earnest and occasionally preachy heart-in-the-right place movie. It’s aimed at “the youth”, that catchall category of viewers whose tastes and politics (or their lack) drive the business of cinema these days. To these young people, Faisal has an important message: don’t take your freedom for granted, because life in prison is nasty, brutish and, as the unlawful incarceration of undertrials in India proves, not short at all.

Qaidi Band best succeeds in its unvarnished portrayal of prison life, where favours are bought and sold, violence is poured upon the inmates by the staff, and hope is perennially in short supply. Each of the main characters, led by Sanju (Aadar Jain) and Bindu (Anya Singh), is awaiting trial for crimes that they inadvertently committed – a contrived way to gain audience sympathy. Undertrials accused of serious crimes who are serving more time than they should because of delays in the legal system deserve our sympathy and help too.

Qaidi Band (2017).

A band is formed in prison when the cruel warden Dhulia (Sachin Pilgaonkar) comes up with the idea in order to curry favour with his superiors. The band’s first performance goes viral after it is recorded by journalists, and a minister tells Dhulia to keep up the good work in order to get in the “youth vote” and a promotion.

The band continues to perform with immense reluctance under duress, and Faisal makes the point well that prisoners are always at the mercy of the law and order machinery. Despite their viral videos and the fame they enjoy outside the prison walls, little changes on the inside for the band members.

The point is most powerfully made in the sequence in which Bindu goes to court for her bail application with her head held high and her eyes shining with hope, only to return to her cell defeated and crumpled. Each of the other band members – played by Mikhail Yawalkar, Peter Muxxa Manuel and Prince Parvinder Singh – turns in sincere performances, and Aadar Jain is competent in his debut performance. But the most affecting turn is by Anya Singh, who handles all her scenes with sensitivity and maturity.

Of course it’s too good to last. Qaidi Band is ultimately a prisoner of the need for a happy ending. The convoluted fairytale climax stretches credibility and converts the band’s ill-advised attempt to escape into a thrilling adventure.

Faisal effectively depicts prison life and makes all the right noises about the state of undertrials in India. The movie is dedicated to Machang Lalung, who spent 54 years in prison without being brought to trial, and who was finally released in 2005 after the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission. The hope-filled and buoyant ending, then, undermines some of the good work in the rest of the movie. Faisal suggests that it is easy enough to be framed for crimes and thrown into the slammer. But surely it can’t be this simple to get out?

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.