'Kesari' tells the story of 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army who decided to stand and fight, to the death, a 10,000-strong Pashtun army.
India's long history has given us innumerable stories of bravery. From almost every corner of this diverse land, we have heard stories of heroic resistance and sacrifice — stories that have proved to be a common thread across the country, uniting us.
One such story of valour is the historic battle of Saragarhi, fought in 1897 in the North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan) and in which 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army chose to stay and fight a 10,000-strong Pashtun army and stall them from capturing key army posts in the area.
Filmmaker Anurag Singh's 'Kesari', starring Akshay Kumar, is based on that historic battle. Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh, the leader of the group that decides to fight the Pashtuns despite a limited arsenal and no support from their army.
Saragarhi was an army communication post situated between two important forts — Lockhart and Gulistan. And since it was primarily a communications post, it had a limited number of soldiers stationed there. The Sikh soldiers, however, decide to stand and fight, to the death, instead of escaping.
Now, not much is taught about this battle in the history books. While the tale is well known in Punjab and the 21 soldiers and their act of bravery is referred to to date, only a handful know about it outside of the state. Which is why 'Kesari' proves to be an important film, narranting an important chapter of the country's history.
A war film based on real-life incidents is almost always predictable. You usually know the tale will end with the supreme sacrifice so, ultimately, it is how the story is narrated that matters.
To its credit, Kesari makes for a compelling watch; with a nuanced screenplay, good production design, and solid performances by the actors, the heroic tale absolutely immerses you into that era.
Akshay Kumar, who leads the pack, gives a powerful performance as the fierce, brave and yet kind Ishar Singh who is aware of the impending doom marching upon him and his men and still chooses to fight.
Shot beautifully by Anshul Chobey with perfect production design by Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray, the look and feel of the film are just right, taking you right into the tough terrain of the North-West Frontier Province. The CGI is good, making the ambience and war scenes look realistic. The action stunts are well thought out, giving the actors, including Kumar, ample room to perform.
A war film can get a bit monotonous with constant battle scenes, which is why the screenplay plays an important role. Singh and Girish Kohli weave in an emotional tale with just the right amount of humour and poignancy which shows the human side of the war without indulging in too much jingoism. The film does not blame any community or religion as such, and instead only highlights the futility of war.
'Kesari' triumphs ultimately because of the story itself — one that teaches us about courage and how to react in times of crisis. 'Kesari' then is a story for all of us.