21 Sikh soldiers vs. 10000 Afghan tribal invaders. The Battle of Saragarhi, which rendered the invincible odds useless, is one of the most famous last battle stands that is sadly not known to many Indians. To even think that a handful of Sikh soldiers could hold a marauding force for so long, and not let them achieve their true objectives is something that is clearly not possible without nerves of steel in the body of each soldier. Anurag Singh’s ‘Kesari’, based on the battle of Saragarhi, is something, which may not be flawless, but certainly a memorable take on the heroic last stand.
Havaldar Ishar Singh [Akshay Kumar], who is transferred to the communication post at Saragarhi as a punishment for disobeying the command of hi s senior officer Lt. Lawrence [Edward Sonneblick], faces a marauding force of 10000+ Afghan invaders. How his platoon of 21 soldiers keep them at bay, and how they give the invaders a living nightmare forms the crux of the story.
What’s Good –
To begin with, the very intention behind making this movie deserves some applause. There have been very few movies in Indian cinema that have been made on Indian history, and fewer films have been made on heroes who deserve our applause and our respect. ‘Kesari’ is just that movie that deserved to be made a long time back. But better late than never. Director Anurag Singh, who had earlier made a gripping, no nonsense take on the Khalistan problem titled ‘Punjab 1984’, has done a fine job with ‘Kesari’.
For the first time after Border, the camaraderie between soldiers has been given their due take. Be it some soldiers trying to cheer up a lonely soldier, who regrets not having consummated his marriage, or a sepoy Jiwan Singh trying his best to cheer up sepoy Bhola Singh, who never smiled at all, such incidents could’ve been misused and led to the movie becoming a slow drag. Thankfully, the skilful direction of Anurag Singh and the engaging script co written by Anurag Singh and Girish Kohli doesn’t let the film go that way.
What’s Awesome –
Akshay Kumar, take a bow man. This guy is constantly exploring new avenues with his upcoming projects, and he has nailed it as the efficient leader Ishar Singh. A strong believer in idealistic principles, Ishar lets his deeds do the talking. When his senior officer mocked him and labeled his land as that ‘which breeds crowds’, Akshay’s character thinks that his deeds should give him an effective reply.
Other soldiers have also played their part well, but the two that deserve a special mention are Sumeet Singh Basra as Gurmukh Singh and Vansh Bhardwaj as Lance Naik Chanda Singh. While Vansh essays the role of a trigger happy, no nonsense soldier effectively, Sumeet as the young heliograph operator Gurmukh in some ways reminds me of the reluctant soldier that Akshaye Khanna portrayed in ‘Border’.
Though not as remarkable as Akshaye, Sumeet as Gurmukh makes a mark of his own, especially in the climax, when despite being consumed by flames, he takes the marauding invaders head on, with his savage roar of ‘Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’ ringing high in the skies. Even Bhawani Muzamil, as the effeminate Afghani sniper, and Rakesh Chaturvedi Om as the bloodthirsty, regressive cleric Mullah Saidullah evoke the right amount of disgust towards their respective characters and ideologies.
Another standing ovation should go to Raju Singh, the man behind the impressive background score and the action department. It’s been years since we’ve seen authentic action, and ‘Kesari’ has many scenes that would satiate the hunger for crisp, raw action. The music of the film is also memorable, particularly the patriotic ‘Teri Mitti’ by Punjabi singer B. Praak, which will leave you choked for sure.
What could’ve Been Better –
However, for all its memorable scenes, Kesari had certain chinks in the armor as well. The time to build up the narrative in the first half was quite slow, and could’ve worked against the movie as well. The British characters in this movie were not up to the mark, and looked like mere caricatures that we’re quite used to in a normal Bollywood movie.
Parineeti Chopra was sweet as Jiwani. However, the abrupt interjections of her conversations with Ishar Singh, as well as the scenes back home, were not carved smartly in the script. Mir Sarwar as Masud Khan was a character that had promise, but wasn’t fully developed. The other issue with this movie was that it tried too hard switching between idealism and pragmatism without sweat, though it didn’t succeed much.
Despite the minor flaws, Kesari is a worthy tribute to the valor of the martyrs at the Battle of Saragarhi. That the film was itself made is enough worthy of applause, but the way Anurag Singh executed it, is something that should not be missed at all. I’d go with 3.5/5 stars.
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