KESARI is based on the true story of one of the bravest battles that India ever fought – the Battle of Saragarhi. The Battle of Saragarhi was fought before the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army and Pashtun Orakzai tribesmen. It occurred in the North-West Frontier Province. Now that’s the backdrop, but with “Kesari” we get a deeper understanding of the battle and we also see how, although the Sikh regiment was of the British army, there are times when the lead warrior Ishar Singh (played by Akshay Kumar) comes into direct conflict with the orders of the British officers. The fact that this is probably one of the first films (in a long time at least) where the British are not the complete antagonists, but actually siding with the main protagonists, makes the film even more unique and fresh.
As punishment for going against the orders of the British gets, Ishar is sent to Saragarhi where a bunch of 20 unruly, undisciplined Sikh soldiers await him. And it is this bunch of cheeky but lovable rouges that Ishar leads into the battle when an army of 10,000 Afghani Pathans turn up at Saragarhi on the 12th of Sept 1897. It is now 21 Sikhs vs 10,000 Afghans on the battlefield. While the story seems unbelievable, the script is well written enough for us to find it believable. At least it gives us a sense of escapism. The way in which the Sikhs are disciplined and the graph of each character is worth a watch. Basically, the portions related to the main story is well developed, however the love story that appears in intervals, with Ishars late wife inspiring him, is pointless. It doesn’t add anything and slows down the narrative.
While the screenplay is overall well written, with a decent pace, it isn’t flawless. There are certain illogical moments. A bizarre ceasefire and the fact that whenever a Sikh soldier is injured, other Sikhs will go to help him, leaving behind the vital job of fighting the invaders. Certain things also seem very easy for the Sikh regiment, considering what they are up against. The climax of the film leaves an impact. The message of bravely comes across. From a technical stand point, the action sequences are commendable. Fantastically conceived and executed. This film, in a way, sensationalizes violence and war. Some may find that to be wrong, but it’s about how you look at it. The cinematography captures the grandeur of the battle perfectly, and also has a very rustic feel, rooted in that era. The sound design and the background score keeps the adrenaline alive. The songs, however, are just ok.
Now to the performances. Akshay Kumar effortlessly slips into the character. From the body language to the dialogue delivery, everything works. In fact, the costume, turban and beard have created some magic within him, as if making him believe that he is truly the character. Parineeti Chopra doesn’t really have much to do, but she is competent with what she has. Like always, the British actors don’t leave a mark. This is a very common occurrence in Hindu films. Foreign actors usually seem superficial. All the actors of the Sikh Regiment leave an impact.
Overall “Kesari” is worth a watch. It may not be excellent, but it is a gripping tale of bravery, none the less, told affectively.
Rating: 3 Stars.