Cast- Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Rajpal Yadav, Govind Namdev, Vansh Bhardwaj, Mir Sarwar
Director- Anurag Singh
How a handful of Sikh soldiers bravely fought thousands of Afghan tribesmen in Saragarhi’s battle of 1897 is at the heart of Kesari.
With Akshay Kumar playing Havildar Ishar Singh, the brave Sardar leading his men from the front, you know this will be a star vehicle out and out. Which is: he’s in nearly every frame, barring a few passages here and there.
It’s also a full-blown melodrama, the kind of movie in which soldiers staring at’ maut’ because that’s what fearless Sikhs are doing, bursting into song. You know these beats, because you’ve seen them in virtually every Bollywood movie about’ Jung’ and’ azaadi’: the rough-and-tumble camaraderie between the men; a rebel who comes to heel; a young man who has never killed, who comes into his own when the time is right, and a scant female presence (the chirpy Chopra as the love interest of Akshay is a walk-on part) just enough to show the soft side of the beat.
There are also some threads that appear to have been included to kowtow the current majority sentiment: a mulla that talks about’ jihad,’ spouts venom against women, and’ kaafirs’ that need to be demolished. An Afghan token who isn’t so much of a hardliner is bunged in for balance, but we know exactly who the good guys are here: the 21 Sikh soldiers who are willing to give up their lives for their’ kaum’ and not as British Army men. Not to miss this’ kesar’ is the saffron’s Hindi word.
For the film, what works is its unapologetic embrace of loudness and lack of nuance: rousing patriotism speeches continue to break into the battlefield’s bloody action. Of course, Akshay gets the maximum; but so do the other soldiers. The other men, one of whom is clearly’ lower caste,’ who gets a teeka of equality, another who hasn’t had time for his suhagraat, and another who has just become a father, have been outlined some work.
Akshay’s movie. And he pulls it off, keeping that ‘ Kesari pagdi ‘ aloft right to the end, delivering thundering speeches while maintaining the morality of his men. His Ishar Singh is inhabited and persuasive, making his Punjabi accent perfectly fit.
Finally, we remain with the film despite its predictable arcs, the result we already know, stretched – out length, and clear alignment with the nation’s nationalistic mood.