This weekend, Yash Raj Films launched “Qaidi Band”, an unusual story of 7 undertrials in India who band together for a musical performance to win over authorities and earn their freedom back.

This isn’t just a movie script. This unlikely story finds its roots in Tihar jail, South Asia’s largest prison complex.

It all started when ‘Menwhopause’, a Delhi based rock band, were invited in 2012 to conduct a 15-day music workshop in Tihar Jail. “When we got here”, said one of the band members, “we were told that there were musicians inside the jail and we decided to meet them. We realised they had already formed band and called themselves ‘The Flying Souls’”.

‘The Flying Souls’ then performed with ‘Menwhopause’ at a special concert inside the prison premises exclusively for inmates.

The plight of undertrials

While naturally both ‘Flying Souls’ and the 7 member band in the film sing of freedom, music as form of a much needed catharsis for the inmates is the crux of both the film and the real life story.

As the film unfolds, ‘Qaidi Band’ sheds light on the plight of undertrials in our prisons. While there have been other Indian films focusing on the harsh treatments of undertrial prisoners - Vetrimaraan’s award winning film “Visaranai”, for example - this is the first high budget Hindi film with undertrials as the focus.

In fact, the trailer of ‘Qaidi Band’ begins with the definition of ‘undertrials’, putting a largely ignored issue front and centre.

Screenshot from the trailer
A screenshot from the trailer, watch it here.

The conditions of undertrials, despite being a topic of regular discussion in the news (from women being beaten up for asking for sanitary pads to overcrowding in prisons which is causing health and hygiene issues) they are usually forgotten at the end of a day’s news cycle.

Two-thirds of India’s prison population comprises undertrials and this figure is estimated to be 18th highest in the world and third highest in Asia. Most prisons in India are overcrowded, partly because of excessive undertrial detention. Amnesty International India had launched a report in July highlighting the state of undertrial detention in India (read the report here).

Despite all such efforts, the plight of undertrials has not garnered the attention it deserves. Films like ‘Qaidi Band’ can help create public awareness and revive the conversation. And maybe, just maybe, we can make the relevant government stakeholders accountable.

Soumya Bhat,
Web & Social Media Editor, Amnesty International India

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Amnesty International India.