Based on the 1897 Battle of Saragarhi, the film revisits the historic saga of the bravery of the 36th regiment that had 21 Sikh soldiers. Its leader, Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar), inspires his battalion to prevent the invaders — an army of 10,000 Afghans — from taking control of the fort of Saragarhi, the main communication point to Gulistan and Lockhart, two other forts in Northern India, then under the British rule. Contrary to the cocky belief of the Afghans that they would capture the fort in an hour or so, the fierce battle went on almost from dawn to dusk. It is regarded as the second bravest battle ever in world history.
War dramas are never an easy watch. They work on two levels. Firstly, they constantly tell you about the futility of war and secondly, they are viscerally disturbing. The bloodshed and the sight of mutilated bodies tear through your soul and make you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Unlike in masala movies where the bloodshed is treated disdainfully, Kesari haunts you because the Battle of Saragarhi is not a piece of fiction. It is a chapter in history, about a contingent of our Sikh soldiers who lost their lives while protecting the fort. And, somehow this fact keeps playing on your mind while watching this movie.
Having said that, the film is a must watch. It convincingly packages patriotic emotions with some superbly-crafted action. As I said earlier, the effect is disturbing, but it’s an unmissable experience. The first half is slightly slow and the Punjabi dialogues are a bit hard to follow. However, if you are patient with this, you are rewarded with a terrific second half. The climax will leave you teary-eyed and B Praak’s Teri Mitti, composed by Arko and written by Manoj Muntashir, is too moving.
Akshay Kumar is in top form once again. He carries the film entirely on his lean shoulders, excelling in the emotional scenes as well as the hardcore action ones. He goes from soft to tough effortlessly, making you root for him almost throughout the movie. Parineeti Chopra, in an extended cameo, is refreshing.
The supporting cast doesn’t boast of established actors. Yet, each of the soldiers leaves behind a quiet impact making you curious enough to Google their names.The canvas of the film is vast and you can tell that the producers have not spared any expenses in making this a big-screen experience.
Actually, most of the technicians have excelled. While the production designers — Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray — have created the most authentic North-West frontier backdrop, cinematographer Anshul Chobey has let his lens roam freely on the arid areas capturing man and nature so minutely, you feel as if you are in the moment.
Anurag Singh and his co-writer have penned clever lines that bring out a myriad of emotions. There’s nothing over-the-top here, but it is effective. Moreover, neither the Sikhs nor the Islamic fundamentalists have been depicted as “blood-seeking avengers”. In fact, you come out hating war, not the parties fighting it.