Kesari Review: The Josh in the film is in Akshay Kumar's killer attitude


Film: Kesari 

Cast: Akshay Kumar and Parineeti Chopra

Director: Anurag Singh

Rating: 4 Moons

Kesari is the mother of all patriotic battles. Very rarely do you see a war film in which the hero and home side, after fighting to their last breaths and laying down their lives, lose the battle but emerge victorious in the cause. That is what the real Battle of Saragarhi that was bloodily fought between 21 valiant Sikh soldiers of the British Army’s Sikh Regiment on September 12, 1897 and 10,000 invading Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen from Afghanistan was all about. The true story of heroism and patriotism of these soldiers that strangely failed to make our history books in school, but which was even then acknowledged in British Parliament, has now triumphantly come to light.

[caption id="attachment_230036" align="aligncenter" width="647"] Akshay Kumar in a still from Kesari[/caption]

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The hero of this epic war film is undoubtedly Akshay Kumar. Like his character in Kesari, the disciplinarian Havildar Ishar Singh who fearlessly leads a ragtag unit of Sikh soldiers in the blood-and-guts battle to death, Akshay delivers a powerful and soul-stirring performance. In uniform and wearing a turban, chest-thumping his loyalty to his duty and proudly bearing the fluttering saffron Nishan Sahib (the Sikh flag) on his sword when he goes to war, he is unmatchable. He is also as hugely impressive and he is inspiring in the short, rousing speech he makes to his miniscule force, invoking God, family and country while giving them the option of backing out from a battle they know will lead to death over the pride and dignity that comes with sacrifice. Akshay’s performance in Rustom (2016), where again he was a soldier in uniform, won him the National Best Actor Award, but it is his show in Kesari that will reaffirm his position as the People’s Champion.

The josh in Kesari is in Akshay’s attitude. At the start, it is sensitive and subservient, for the British treat Indian soldiers like slaves and believe the countrymen are cowards. But Ishar Singh is cut of a different cloth. There is pathos in his romance with Priyanka (Parineeti Chopra, vivacious as always), especially in his dying moments when he imagines he sees her among the enemy come to kill him and has an emotional conversation with her; there is comedy in his interaction with the Sikh soldiers who are more accustomed to pulling one another’s legs and cockfights than war; there is fierce pride for his duty, faith, country and self in his flinty gaze from the ramparts of Saragarhi at the amassed 10,000 Afghanis; and there is an intensity to his action in the gritty hand-combat scenes that makes you think Akshay really believed he was fighting the Battle of Saragarhi.

[caption id="attachment_229042" align="aligncenter" width="647"] A still of Akshay Kumar and Parineeti Chopra from Kesari[/caption]

If Akshay has the lion’s share of screen time, writer-director Anurag Singh has ensured that the rest of his star cast also shines in their small but significant roles. He has also taken great pains to see that the grandeur of the film is not lost in exaggerated battle scenes or architecturally magnificent sets. The landscape is stark and barren, as the North West Frontier Province must be, and the heat and dust of the desert rise up at you just as the haunting bugle call of the war gets to you and sucks you into the action and drama. The VFX is also realistically handled and blends with the sandy tone texture. While the slick editing, some deft cinematography, powerful dialogues and captivating background score (especially the heartrending Teri Mitti) compliments the film.

[caption id="attachment_216599" align="aligncenter" width="647"] A poster of Kesari[/caption]

There are several reasons why everybody must see Kesari. Primarily, because in these times, it is a packed with patriotic fervour without being jingoistic. But also because the film is a compelling watch and makes up for all the history lessons on the Battle of Saragarhi that generations of Indians lost in school while reading up on the great Maratha-Mughal-British empire wars. By now it’s a story well told. And it’s told with a hint of romance and a pinch of comedy that does not take away from the tenacious action. You know what’s coming, but yet you cannot wait to see how Anurag Singh has showcased it and Akshay Kumar delivers it. For delving into forgotten history and coming up with this masterpiece, both need to be applauded. See Kesari also for the gripping battle scenes which are equivalent to any of Hollywood’s best war films, the fine performances of every actor on this vast canvas, and the revelations behind the triumphs and tragedies of war. Today, when wars are decided by politicians at cabinet meetings and started or ended with a flick of the nuclear switch, it is fascinating to see how this historic last-stand was determinedly maintained by the valorous Sikhs relying on breech-loading rifles fitted with bayonets and swords they heated on burning fires.