A sentimental, revisionist retelling of the Battle of Saragarhi, where 21 braveheart soldiers fought 10,000 Afghani tribesmen. This Kesari review is brought to you by AboutFlick’s Mr T.
Director: Anurag Singh
Review: As a filmmaker, who do you cast when you want to celebrate a chest thumping brand of nationalism, but only have an average screenplay? Why, Akshay Kumar, of course. If I told you it’s a story of a middle-aged man who defies all odds and isn’t afraid to do what it takes for the service of the nation, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know which film I’m talking about. It could be Kesari, or it could be Gold or Toilet or Pad Man or Rustom. Kesari is set in 1897 and revolves around the Battle of Saragarhi, where 21 braveheart soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army fought 10,000 Afghans to defend the strategic military outpost of Saragarhi in Khyber Pass.
It is an Akshay Kumar film throughout, and he plays Havildar Ishar Singh, the man who led the battle. Anurag Singh throws history books out the window and portrays the other soldiers as unprofessional and amateurish so that Ishar can take charge and inspire everyone. Now Akshay Kumar can sometimes make mediocre films look good, but what lingers in your mind while watching this performance is his fake beard and non-regulation saffron turban. Parineeti Chopra plays Ishar Singh’s wife Jiwani, and she seems as disinterested in the role as I was while watching the film.
Most great war dramas like The Hurt Locker (2008) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) have something in common – all of them have interesting characters, relationships and circumstances. Kesari doesn’t feel the need to bother with all that, but instead tries to manipulate the audience using melodrama, the token ill-treatment of an Indian soldier, traditional religious pride and half-hearted messages of inclusion. The much-hyped battle sequence is also devoid of any warfare strategy and is reduced to a long-drawn commercial about guns and swords. The CGI work reeks of incompetence and can be extremely jarring.
When you think about it, Kesari has a premise that will haunt you even as you read about it on Google. It could have been a story about two sides who are caught in an impossible situation created by the British. Instead, the filmmakers go to great lengths to make this a simplistic battle between good and evil. I think I’m not alone when I say that the 21 soldiers deserved a better film than what we got.
Rating: My rating for Kesari is 2/5.
Who should watch this: If you liked the recent Akshay Kumar films, you’ll enjoy Kesari. But if you want better war films, do check out Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Border (1997), Uri – The Surgical Strike (2019), Dunkirk (2017), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and The Hurt Locker (2008).