Kesari: A battle that needs to be watched
Akshay Kumar single-handedly lifts the film with his determination and promises a blockbuster.
Set in 1897, Kesari is the story of the lesser-known Battle of Saragarhi. The film begins with a narration about India under the British rule and is based in the North-West province (now in Khyber, Pakistan).
We are introduced to Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar), who prides the Sikh valour more than anything else. This is made clear to us in his introductory scene, where he fights neighbouring tribesmen while saving a woman from being slaughtered for deserting her husband.
Donning the avatar of a Sikh isn't novel to Akshay Kumar, but unlike his earlier two outings, his appearance is distinct in Kesari. He has a piercing gaze, sports a full beard with a moustache, wears a huge pagadi (turban) with a chakkar (small ring) around it, which can be skillfully used as a weapon during war.
As a punishment for not obeying the orders of a British officer, he is ordered to go to Saragarhi Fort to lead an army of 20 unruly, undisciplined soldiers, collectively known as 36th Sikh Regiment. Most of the first half of the film goes in Ishar Singh establishing a rapport with this bunch and making them capable enough to face the implausible war against 10,000 invaders.
Director Anurag Singh joins Girish Kohli in scripting this adaptation of a documented true event. Though they do a meticulous job of fictionalising an entire film on the basis of a war that lasted for a day, one desires for tightness in the narrative.
While the first half builds up to the battle, the entire second half of the film is on the battlefield. The action sequences, also seen in the trailer, are well choreographed but beyond a point - the bloodshed, gunshots, and the swords slashing bodies are too much to handle. While few might argue that violence is evident in a war film, it is superfluous for a movie with a UA rating.
The writer and director try to balance out the violence by introducing us to the back stories of a few soldiers, but it is not layered enough. Ishar Singh keeps talking to his wife (Parineeti Chopra) in his imagination; a soldier misses his six-month-old daughter; another one has been summoned back on the day of his wedding and another one who desires respect, comes from an oppressed background. Although we peek into their lives in the first half, you don't grieve at their loss.
One story stands out though - the youngest soldier, Gurumukh Singh, who has never killed anybody and fears the enemy. He, however, shines in the climax. But more depth to the characters and tighter writing could have made Kesari a more engaging watch.
Towards the climax, as the enemies inch closer to the 21 Sikh soldiers, you do question the futility of this battle. Running out of men and ammunition, the Sikhs fight for their honour and try to keep their pagdi intact.
It cannot be denied that the film peddles patriotism, but if it is a story of soldiers stationed to protect their country's borders, it is bound to be jingoistic.
The writers do give us a few powerful scenes to take home - Ishar Singh wearing a kesari (orange) turban to represent the Sikh community, his speech to boost the morale in times of adversity, a young soldier scribbling the names of the deceased on the walls of the fort, Ishar Singh's fearless single-handed fight sequence as he meets his end and the death of the final soldier. Intricate detailing to the costumes by Sheetal Sharma lends authenticity to the characters. The CGI falters at places and the movie seems way too long at 150 minutes.
Kesari might be an account of unsung heroes who have never been introduced to us through our history books, but it is a story that needs to be watched. Inspite of the film's predictable arc, Akshay Kumar solely lifts the film with his determination and promises an entertainer.
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra
Director: Anurag Singh
Movie Stars: 3/5