Kesari Movie Review: Akshay Kumar Plays a Fearless Warrior with Remarkable Zeal
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra
Director: Anurag Singh
The trailer of Akshay Kumar starrer Kesari, based on the incidents from Battle of Saragarhi, set the premise straight when Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) says “Bahar kum se kum dus hazaar hain aur hum ekkis” (Outside, they are at least ten thousand of them while we are a mere 21). A Herculean task by any stretch of imagination to win that battle but Singh could have been spelling out the formidable task that lay ahead for the film’s writers Anurag Singh and Girish Kohli as they set about encapsulating the Battle of Saragarhi into the dictates of a Hindi film. It was evident that the film based on true life events from 1897 would be about everything that happens to the 21 soldiers confined within the fort of Saragarhi, outnumbered severely by the enemy (Pashtun tribesmen) outside.
This cliff-hanger of a situation, we realise early on, is not one that is going to end happily. So the writers are obviously left with the only choice of making the screenplay as taut as possible so as to not allow the audience to veer away from the on-screen goings-on. To this end, they succeed and I say this for two reasons—(a) At the special screening that I went for the approving roar of Akshay Kumar fans who had travelled from various places in Maharashtra to watch their idol’s film suggested that Kesari works well for the junta. And (b) Despite knowing how the film would end, I came away well entertained.
At the very outset, it is clearly established that Havildar Ishar Singh, a faithful servant of the British, is an honourable and brave man. His courage as is the lot of brave men often lands him in trouble. When he saves a girl in distress and invites the wrath of the Pathans, his racist superiors think that the best way to avoid trouble is to pack him off to a nondescript neglected outpost in the Northwest Frontier Province where he can do no harm.
Fate, however wills otherwise. Within a few days of his arrival, the Pathan tribesmen (Afghans) decide to attack and isolate the three British outposts—Saragarhi, Gulistan and Lockhart—in the locality in order to push the foreigners out of their territory. Now given India’s chequered past with the British, things could have get a bit muddled in the screenplay as the Afghan's motivation was to defeat the British and not Indians per se. Also in times when nationalism and patriotism are worn as a badge of honour, to show the brave Sikh soldiers as mere protectors of the Imperial interest could have severely weakened the plot.
The writers, however, have skilfully averted such a disaster by pointing out to bigotry as the major flaw in the enemy. In sharp contrast, the valour of the 21 Sikh soldiers stoically facing their inevitable destiny in order to do their duty, stands out.
Director Anurag Singh knows his Punjabi history and folklore well. The 21 brave-hearts, to use a contemporary term—are well etched characters, each serving a certain purpose in the broader arc of the war narrative. They grow on you and when each of these good men falls, your heart breaks momentarily. The fact that their family backstories, a common trope with such films are not dwelt on beyond necessity helps in building up to the climax without a stretch.
One of the chief drawbacks of the urbane style of film-making is that in their attempt to layer stories with a subtle nuance, they lack the emotional flourish of the salt-of-the-earth flavouring required to sweep the mass audiences. Kesari takes the best of both styles and provides the story with heightened emotion that a film such as this requires. Backed with slick action and technical finesse, this one despite the barren landscape is visually rich, well justifying a theatre viewing.
Akshay Kumar, shoulders the burden of pulling off this masterful telling of a folk tale with the suitable ease. He is gentle, authoritative, comic, sensitive and of course a fierce warrior all rolled in one and Kumar pulls each off with just the suitable degree of dramatic restraint.
A few days ago in a quick exchange with trade pundits, I had quizzed them on what they thought would be Kesari’s fate at the box-office and they were certain that it would be a hit. But, I will venture out and say that in his repertoire of films, Kesari could certainly rank among his finer performances and possibly his biggest blockbusters.
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