By Devesh Sharma
Kesari is a fictionalised account of the legendary Battle Of Saragarhi where 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment stood out the wrath of ten thousand Afghan tribals on 12 September 1897 and didn’t let them conquer the Saragarhi fort till the evening. The original plan of the tribals was to capture the nearby forts, Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan as well on the same day. The sacrifice by the 21 bravehearts delayed their plans and those two forts didn’t get captured.
The film has a one-line plot. Director Anurag Singh were faced with the daunting task of lining it up with enough elements to engage the viewers for close to three hours. Instead of filling the frames with just mindless action, the director chose to provide an emotional core to the film. Hence, humanitarian values as preached by Guru Granth Sahib get juxtaposed with the age old precepts of bravery, valour and dying for one’s cause, which are the founding principles of Sikhism. Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) not only helps an Afghan woman from being beheaded, he also orders his troops to help repair the mosque of the nearby village, stating that helping those in need is the warrior’s first credo. Given the context of the Babri Masjid riots and its aftermath, this plot point is a brave, much needed statement. Ishar orders his cook to serve water even to the fallen enemy, accentuating the belief that one’s foes should also be treated humanely.
There isn’t a jingoistic element in the film. Instead, the soldiers are shown to be stranded away from their loved ones, fighting an enemy not of their own choosing. They are turned into freedom fighters by the narrative, willing to die for their own pride in being Sikh warriors and not because of any fealty to the British Empire. The desolation of the soldiers is shown through the example of Ishar Singh who keep getting hallucinations about his wife (Parineeti Chopra). There is a mention about caste divide as well, and thankfully the way it is presented doesn’t make it stick out.
But this isn’t just a humanitarian drama but also an action film. And it’s here that the film turns all loud and over the top. The hugely outnumbered soldiers die valiant deaths, one after the other, with each sacrifice becoming more gruesome than the one preceding it. Ishar Singh becomes a berserker in the end, killing Afghans left, right and centre with his sword, his chakra, stones, even his bare hands, winning the grudging respect of the enemy. The last soldier, a rookie, sets himself on fire and jumps on the gathered horde, blasting quite a number of them, thanks to the dynamite he was carrying.
Akshay Kumar is verily the soul of the film. His bearing, his mannerisms are totally that of a professional soldier. The way he goes about winning over the men of his command post and later rallies their morale all feels heroic to the extreme. His sincerity oozes through in those scenes. The rest of the cast, consisting of actors hailing from the Punjabi industry, too make you feel you’re watching a band of brothers. Having a no-name cast supporting the lead was a risk which has paid off as they become synonymous with the unknown brave souls of long ago, who died fighting in one of the most gallant battles ever fought…