Wednesday, 30 November, 2022
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Himachal police is singing, recruiting, bringing revenue. It’s called Harmony of the Pines

With lakhs of followers on social media, including the biggest names in Bollywood, the 17-member Himachal Pradesh Police Orchestra is on its way to becoming a global phenomenon.

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Shimla: The stage was set, the band members had taken their positions. Sound was checked, vocals were practised to check the pitch and texture of their voice. They hummed songs to be sung.

But just as they were warming up for their performance, they were rudely asked to get off the stage. “The star of the night had arrived and the chief guest ordered our removal,” recalls constable Satish Kumar, one of the founding members of the Himachal Pradesh Police Orchestra, also known as the Harmony of the Pines.

After this humiliation, sub-inspector Vijay Kumar made a prophecy. “It’s alright, gentlemen, one day we will be the stars of the event!” he told his orchestra.

It turned out to be quite the prediction. Himachal Pradesh Police Orchestra has grown to become not just a sought-after name in the state, but the entire country. With lakhs of followers on social media, and fans including the biggest names in Bollywood, such as Karan Johar, Twinkle Khanna, Rohit Shetty, the 17-member khaki band is on its way to becoming a global phenomenon.

Band members practising along with band head sub-inspector Vijay Kumar | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint
Band members practising along with band head sub-inspector Vijay Kumar | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint

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A 25-year-old legacy 

At the police headquarters in Shimla, the Pines occupy a room to practice. They’ve now been allotted a state-of-the-art studio with the best equipment, mic, and sound systems to work with.

Harmony of the Pines might have received nationwide attention now, especially after reaching the grand finale of the Colors TV show Hunarbaaz this year, but it has been around since 1996 when the orchestra was first formed.

Back then, the band would perform at small police events and didn’t have very good musical equipment or instruments. “People used to think we created a lot of noise and would limit us to one corner of the party,” sub-inspector Vijay recalls.

But the band members were keen on becoming masters from amateurs. To hone their skills, they started going to Delhi and practising Western music too. These were completely self-sponsored.

Slowly, as they performed at various cultural festivals across the state, the Pines started gaining recognition. In 2015-16, they started getting invited to major cultural events in Himachal Pradesh, but it was still a long way to stardom. “Our performances were scheduled at odd times. Say, at 4 pm, when there’d be hardly any audience, and we’d play to empty chairs. It took time before we got the 6-7 pm time slot,” Vijay said.

Eventually, the band gained the support of the Himachal police, which started recruiting singers and musicians from all over the state to be part of the orchestra. The recruitment was done through advertisements, and the police had to sieve through hundreds of applications, age no bar.

Currently, there are 17 members in the orchestra, and eight vacancies. A majority of them were recruited to the police after they were chosen to be part of the orchestra.

In 2016, the Himachal Pradesh government gave the Harmony of the Pines permission to perform in their uniform anywhere in the world. They wear police vardis with a striped yellow and black handkerchief around their necks.

Constable Mukesh Kumar playing the English flute | Shubhangi Misra/ThePrint
Constable Mukesh Kumar playing the English flute | Shubhangi Misra/ThePrint

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The DGP steps in and steps up

The band got a major boost two years ago when Sanjay Kundu took charge as Director General of Police — he had a special interest in the Harmony of the Pines. The DGP ensured the band had the best in class equipment to practice with.

Kundu is a reformer by habit and wanted to ensure the police gets a more approachable, humane image amongst Himachalis. He realised that the orchestra had the potential to give the police a friendly, likeable image and generate awareness.

“Most of the problems the police deal with are multi-stakeholder problems. After I joined, I realised we can leverage the band for public outreach. While we can do our enforcement, it has limitations. We did an analysis of the root cause of problems and realised that the khaki has to have a human face,” he said. ”Through music and videos, we can deliver messages powerfully and in a lucid manner.”

The orchestra says it was DGP Kundu who ensured they had a platform and encouraged the band to perform on national TV. The band also started getting more time to practice, and their duty hours were reduced. The DGP has allotted eight hours of practice time five days a week for the Pines.

“The Sennheiser mic that Colors TV had for its contestants, the DGP got for our studio. We got a Yamaha Saxophone that costs Rs 5 lakh. We got a Phantom series keyboard worth Rs 3 lakh. In the past two years, we have purchased equipment worth Rs 55 lakh, all thanks to DG sir,” sub-inspector Vijay said.

The band now charges upwards of Rs 1 lakh for private events. The police has set up a fund where the Pines’ proceeds go. It pays for equipment and travel expenses.

Under DGP Kundu, the band is also recording high-quality videos on YouTube and composing its own songs. They have produced three songs so far: Covid Mantra, Say No to Drugs and a nationalistic song for police commemoration day. All videos have lakhs of views and are showered with appreciation. Covid Mantra was even shared by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur on social media.

Bollywood to Hunarbaaz — The turning point

One of the most popular songs of the Pines is their cover of Koi Mil Gaya from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), an Instagram Reel of which has been shared by numerous celebrities.

The Pines gained the kind of prominence Vijay had prophesied in early 2022 when they participated in Hunarbaaz, a talent show on Colors TV, in which they came in third. “It wasn’t coming on TV that was thrilling. It was the love our uniform received, the police forces received,” Vijay Kumar said.

“For the past few shiv ratri festivals in the state, big singers like Shreya Ghoshal, Sukhwinder Singh and Jubin Nautiyal were unable to draw crowds. That’s why the chief minister specially flew us down from Mumbai, where we were shooting for Hunarbaaz, to perform at the festival, and we were a huge hit. It was a confidence boost,” he said.

A lot of people aspire to be a member of the Pines, and the selection happens through a committee comprising the DGP, other officers and members of the band based on interviews and auditions.

Constables Kritika Tanwar and Deepika Thakur are the only female band members | Shubhangi Misra/ThePrint
Constables Kritika Tanwar and Deepika Thakur are the only female band members | Shubhangi Misra/ThePrint

Also read: Indian women in police shouldn’t be restricted to ‘pink squads’. Put uniforms to better use


Skewed sex ratio 

The sex ratio of the Pines raises questions about its diversity. There are only two women members — constables Kritika Tanwar and Deepika Thakur.

The band leader, sub-inspector Vijay, says they had issued four vacancies for women, but could fill only two. “You’ll find a lot of singers, but we received absolutely no application from a woman playing an instrument,” he explained. pastedGraphic.png

Women also have had to face greater struggles as part of a touring band. While Tanwar has a 3-year-old boy to whom she has to give equal attention, Thakur says that she has had to face beatings from her family to be a part of the orchestra. “My family was dead against me joining the orchestra,” she told ThePrint.

Both Thakur and Tanwar joined the state police only four years ago, while they have been performing with the Pines for almost a decade. “I used to get paid Rs 150 for one performance in the initial days. That gradually increased to Rs 450. And now I am a police constable,” Tanwar said.

But more women representation is essential for the band that has brought a new dimension to the Himachal police.

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