Bringing forth the past glory of Indian soldiers to the celluloid is indeed a moment of pride for KESARI. The Year is 1897. In the icy mountains of Afghanistan, a hair-raising battle is fought at Fort Saragarhi.
Twenty-one brave hearts of 36th Sikh Regiment fight bravely against ten thousand Afghans till the last man and last bullet. Posthumously, all of them were conferred upon with the Indian Order of Merit equivalent to the Victoria Cross, the highest military award under British rule.
Fortunately, KESARI, unlike other Akshay Kumar films, is not a quickie that is churned out within two months. The major part of the film is shot across the breath-taking locales of Leh Ladakh. Or at least it appears so through clever CGI effects. We watch in disbelief when these soldiers engage Afghanis with single-loading rifles in hostile weather. Lack of reinforcements from British troops adds to their woes. But the sons-of-soil prefer to embrace Kesariya, the color of valor, respect, and raw courage.
With a roar of “Jo Bole So Nihaal”, twenty-one Kesari Pagaris fight a fierce battle till they run out of ammunition. But they continue to fight with bare hands, stones, and wooden bats. Like a wounded Abhimanyu from Mahabharata, Havildar Ishar Singh fights with thousands akin to Sikh martial art, Gatka. Director, Anurag Singh and DOP should take a bow for superb execution of action sequences.
For all its pluses, KESARI could have risen high enough. But for its emotional interludes, the film is immersed in thick of the battle. Characters suddenly fall into self-talk or break into a sad song or try to crack a joke. While bringing out the human side of a soldier, it managed to kill the overall high-strung tempo of KESARI.
Emotions going hot and cold, warm camaraderie, love loss and family talks between unit hands are very well placed in the first half. But in the second half, the director decides to play to the gallery by succumbing to cheesy dialogues and corniest scenes. Discounting nuances and finer details, KESARI turns into a straight-jacketed war movie. Every emotion is simplified and amplified to reach basic human understanding. One expects more depth in the drama through unexpressed emotions. But words like ‘Darpok Hindustani’, ‘ Angrej ka Gulam’ etc take us back to the loud cinema of the ’80s. But then Akshay Kumar films are made for the masses. Subtlety is damned.
The film may have its flaws. But at the end of the day, the real heroes had fought this real battle with sheer grit. The real happenings may be beyond our imagination. There is no harm in respecting the humble attempt by KESARI to depict the events in a little melodramatic way.
Akshay Kumar is playing the pivotal role of Havildar, Ishar Singh. He drums up enough patriotic emotions to keep his desh-bhakti record intact. A leopard may never change his spots but Akshay Kumar changes every Friday. With his ear to the ground, AK delivers just what his fans want; variety in role-playing. He may have graduated to mature roles but his messages are loud and clear. Standing ramrod straight in Kesari Pagari and Khaki Rig, Akshay Kumar is a lean-mean fighting machine. Those self-enacted tough stunts and daring sword fights belie his ripe age of 50. His naked Kharga sword and piercing eyes are enough to send shivers down the enemy’s spine.
Parineeti Chopra wafts in and out of his dream sequences and is hence understandably thanked for ‘special appearance’. Spunky and vivacious, she brings color to this Khaki palette.
Rest of the twenty superheroes are equally good and are certainly the pillars of KESARI. Their natural performances make the film all the more endearing.
Mullah and Afghan leaders suit the roles and look menacing enough. Mullah using religion as a weapon to incite wars resonates with the current scenario. But the director should be credited for not painting them complete black in a broad stroke.