By Aasawari Shenolikar
INDIAN history is replete with tales of valour. And Sikhs, known for their fierce devotion to the motherland, have played a significant role in protecting it from invaders. Anurag Singh, with the help of his leading man Akshay Kumar weaves a pretty compelling story that delves into the lives of the 21 soldiers who, on the 12th September 1897 stood tall against the might of 10000 plus invaders from Afghanistan. Kesari, peppered with facts, figures and a bit of fiction, is not a docudrama. For the most part, Singh has managed to create a visual treat, and effectively blended the horrors of war with the camaraderie that such horrors evoke in humans wielding the guns and bayonets, all the while focusing on their bravery.
The courageous Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar), a Havaldar with the 36 Sikh Regiment, posted at Gulistan Fort on the Indo-Afghan border, disobeys the orders of his senior and helps save the life of an Afghan woman, who was sure to have been beheaded if it was not for Ishar's interference. Punishment for his disobedience is meted out and he is transferred to Saragarhi fort, one of the three forts in the area which serves as a communication post. Saragarhi is also under the 36 Sikh Regiment and is manned by 20 soldiers, Ishar Singh's arrival adds one more to the figure of 20. As he instills into the men under his command the virtues of being a soldier, he also befriends them. So when the time comes to make a choice between leaving the fort and running away when the Afghans are advancing or facing the enemy and protecting the fort, their valour knowing fully well that they will be sacrificing their lives, all opt to fight for their motherland. In the fierce battle that ensures and lasts for an entire day, these bravehearts manage to thwart the enemy and keep them from advancing towards the other forts. Not without reason, then that the Battle of Saragarhi is known to be one of the bravest battles fought, for which the British Army awarded all the 21 with medals equivalent to the Victoria Cross for laying down their lives in course of their duty.
The pace is sluggish in the first half where Singh takes his time establishing the many characters with their back stories. So besides the Sikhs, there is the Mulla who screams 'jihad' at every given opportunity - he is the one who brings together different tribes so that they can capture the forts at the NorthWest Frontier Province. Then there are the British officers - one haughty, one compassionate, soldiers ranging from a hardcore soldier to a 19-year-old, who has never seen anyone being killed. This teenager is the last man standing and in a fitting finale comes on his own and takes the enemy head on, killing many in the process.
Of course, there is Parineeti Chopra as Ishar's love interest, who shows the softer side of this tough as nails Sardar. Her track, however, does not add anything substantial to this war drama, that in the second half comprises of adrenaline pumping, high octane action. The pace picks up here and you see the 21 Sikhs at their bravest best. They are also crafty enough to make use of many opportunities to blow up the enemy with their tools and their people. The soldiers fall down at regular intervals, they run out of ammunition, but that does not deter their high moral. All take on the bullets facing the enemy, thus proving that they fought courageously for their dignity and motherland.
The cinematographer Anshul Choubey captures the rich vista of the battlefield, and complemented with the riveting background transports us into the era and makes us a part of the great battle that has gone in history as one of the most well fought and brave battles that serenades the valour of 21 Sikhs. Wish the editor Manish More had also done a slick, sharp job. Singh's film, predictable in parts, that more or less sticks to the facts, is a cinematic triumph that celebrates patriotism and valour. Jo Bole So Nihal - Sat Sri Akal - the clarion call does bring on the goosebumps.
The Hitavada Rating: ✯✯✯