Kesari starring Akshay Kumar tells the story of the Battle of Saragarhi that took place on 12th September 1897

Before I talk about Kesari, I want to talk about a personal issue with Indian Biographical Films.

I often complain that Indian films take more efforts in blending a larger percentage of fiction in facts to make the film juicier (or so they think). While that maybe be because of fear of being bad at telling the story well, fear of telling just the truth without the embellishment or just bad screenplay writing.

Since we have these amazing true stories of Valour since the beginning of our history, it has always bothered me to see adding a massive dose of fiction in our cinema when making stories based on true events extremely problematic.

Rarely do you see films that do not do so in abundance in the name of cinematic liberty and even more so rarely do you see them using no fiction at all in making a film on the subject. Maybe Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor Ki Maut, or even Anant Mahadevan’s Gaur Hari Dastaan are rare moments in film history when you so most truth and less or no fiction play on screen in a film.

Even Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi attributed the epigram from the biblical injunction that biographer Louis Fischer wrote to explain Gandhi’s non-violence expression.

Now to come to explain my problem with that is, that cinema is fast becoming our educational institutes. People in the age of whatsapp forwards, 1 minute videos and 10 second stories believe in the audio visual medium as the ultimate truth. Much more than the books with years of research and studies and exploration to find the absolute truth in the history and that’s where it becomes a problem.

The idea that everyone who believes that the film maker are telling a well research truth, when they call a film True Story or based on True incidents, even the plate in the very beginning of the film that says that fiction is the added spice for entertainment in this film, doesn’t really do much to embed the little incorrect anecdotes. And that can be explained with the simple fact that the entire world still believes that ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ is actually a quote by Mahatma (M K) Gandhi. That is the impact of cinema to the world and it should be taken into consideration when telling such stories.

That’s the end of Pretext and extended rant.

‘Kesari’ Trailer | Akshay Kumar | Parineeti Chopra

Kesari directed by Anurag Singh (Punjab 1984, Super Singh), starring Akshay Kumar, Rakesh Chaturvedi Om in leading roles is a story based on the true incidents of The Battle of Saragarhi fought on 12 September 1897 between 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army’s the 36th Sikhs Regiment and Pashtun Orakzai and Afridi tribesmen.

It occurred in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) who were stationed at the Saragarhi army post between two important station forts, namely Fort Lockhart & Gulistan Fort situated a few miles apart;  invisible to each other, thus Saragarhi was created midway, as a heliographic communication post.

The Saragarhi post, situated on a rocky ridge, consisted of a small block house with loop-holed ramparts and a signalling tower which was attacked by 10000 to 12,000 Afghans on 12th September 1897 with just The 21 men of the 36th Sikhs Regiment stationed, led by Havildar Ishar Singh, who chose to fight to their deaths, in what is considered by military historians as one of history’s greatest last-stands that managed to delay the Afghan Attack on the British Indian Contingent on the other two forts. The Afghans’ admitted to have had over 180 deaths and many injured however the british data had over 4800 casualties estimated between 12th and 14th September 1897 when they managed to recapture the fort of Saragarhi.

Anurag & Girish Kohli (Mom) write a brilliant second half that is factually near perfect, right from the series of deaths and actions that the 21 brave men took in their battle against the Pashtun, however the slow start and build up to the war making it a petty issue (spoiler) about a revenge for stopping them from killing a girl (Toranj Kayvon) who is trying to escape a forced marriage is not just stupid but also irrelevant and incorrect. The dull use of emotions and humour also affects the film in the first 30-35 minutes. Adding a romantic song between Parineeti Chopra also doesn’t do anything to the narrative. Instead of focussing on Havildar Ishar Singh’s montage love story, it would have been interesting to see something play out of the other 20 members of the 36th Sikhs at the Saragarhi Fort to establish a more personal connect before the anticipated war action which was missed. Though the second half fills up the gaps it leaves you with a yearning for more that could have been shown.

The Action Choreography (Parvez Sheikh, Lawrance Woodword) is so well done and stays true to the times with Akshay Kumar taking away the best of the stunts and nailing them. The rest of the action and war scenes play out well and keep you hooked through out. The VFX is shoddy at times, specially when you see some of the blast scenes on the fort where you can feel the weightlessness of the polystyrene walls! The Art Direction however is done well and sticks to the timeline with perfectly done mud walls and stone forts.

Anshul Chobey (Kaptaan) has shot the film beautifully, and has done a decent job lighting up the screen perfectly at all times especially the entire war action sequences. Sheetal Sharma also perfectly makes all the characters get in the garb of the 36th Sikhs, Afghans and Pashtun tribesman and does an A job of getting all the costumes do justice to the time and geography the film is set in.

Jasleen Royal’s version of Deh Shiva Mohe is so beautiful and put together so beautifully twice in the film; interestingly works better than Sukhwinder Singh’s version in the film and with Arko’s Teri Mitti in the climax adds so much soul to the emotional battle scenes between the action and battle cries. The Background score is also very interesting, well done, again especially in the battle scenes.

Parineeti Chopra does well in the little part she had in the film but I felt it was unnecessary and added just to have a leading pair in the film purely for commercial reasons and Akshay Kumar gives his best performance second only to his act in Sangharsh. Edward Sonnenblick as Lt. Lawrence and the other actors playing Britishers are cast well and do not look out of place like they generally do attempting the Teen Guna Lagaan accent!

Rakesh Chaturvedi Om who plays Saidullah the main antagonist in the film may not look or feel as menacing as he should be delivers in most parts and embodies the invaders part with ease.

Kesari in the end is a war film, a true story of the impossible feat made possible by the valour of 21 men of the 36th Sikhs Regiment of the British Indian Army and is made like that with lot of patriotic fervour, war cries, religious swank – Sikh Pride to be precise and all things in between and that’s what makes the film interesting inordinately.

It’s an important true story, told very late, but better late than ever. Though a slow and gimcrack first half makes the film lag; more so because it’s made to be an Akshay Kumar show from the start, the real story which is told pretty much as it is post intervals makes up for it when you leave the theatre feeling for all the characters and the valour of the real warriors in the Battle of Saragarhi.

It also leaves me wondering what happened to the other two films announced on the subject with Ajay Devgn and Randeep Hooda respectively and could they have been better than this?

Despite some of it’s problem which makes it short of being an epic on screen as werll the film delivers the story well and is a visual delight in parts with very good, raw action sequences.

I will give it a 3 and half stars where i take away points for the slow start and half hearted VFX.