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Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  5 April 2019 11:00 AM GMT

By Ambar Chatterjee

“Leonidas had 300, Ishar Singh had 21”

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Ashwath Bhatt, Suvinder Vicky, Vansh Bhardwaj, Edward Sonnenblick, Sumeet Basran, Toranj Kayvon.

Director: Anurag Singh

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a willful Sardar who is as keen on doing his duty as he is on answering the call of his conscience. While on duty on the Indo-Afghan borders, Ishar saves an Afghan woman who is about to be butchered for the most trivial reasons by a horde of hyper charged men going against the orders of his commanding officer. The act earns him a one way ticket to Saragarhi Fort which is nothing but a glorified post office. Little does Ishar and the 20 other men of Saragarhi know that destiny has brought them together to accomplish a feat that will be one worthy of remembrance and reverence till the end of times.

Kesari is a heartwarming affair for a plethora of reasons. I was for once apprehensive about how they were going to portray the heroism of the men and didn’t want this film to turn into a caricature-ish rendering of one of the bravest feats ever achieved in the history of man and war. Atleast that’s what the trailers were pointing too. Thankfully the film is all together a different beast. The first half establishes the topography of the region and gives us an insight into the conflict that is at hands between the British India and the Afghans. I just loved the fact that the makers made it a point to point out the growing dissent among the Indian soldiers against their British masters. The events of the film unfold a few years after the Sepoy Mutiny and the director and the writer in subtle ways nods to that event without even mentioning it. It really helped to establish the characters and their mindset at a time when they are faced with the greatest challenge of their lives.

The film needed to nail the reason that would make the 21 Sikhs go up against 10,000 Afghans when they are so not happy with their British Commanders. Thankfully the writers and the director pull that through with elegance and the viewer never for once is in doubt about the motivations of the Sardars. The film runs for a whooping 2 hours 30 minutes and I was really apprehensive about the unnecessary back-story of the men that the director may have thought of putting up. I was also praying that Parineeti Chopra would just disappear and have nothing to do with the film. Thankfully, on both counts, the director delivers exactly what was the need of the hour. We get a peek into the back stories of the men at Saragarhi but that is done though their mutual dialogues and little nuggets of information that they share with each other and not elaborate set pieces. Parineeti is barely there and she appears in a manner similar to how Genelia D’Souza (she was highly likeable) popped up here and there in Force 2. Parineeti sticks out like a sore thumb but luckily we see so little of her that it doesn’t really matter.

The action, aided by some great background score is innovative and good. The director keeps the flying and over-the-top jumps and leaps to a bare minimum and that really helps the cause. There is a sense of physicality to the action which I enjoyed thoroughly and that I believe would be the case with most others. The fact that each of the supporting actors becomes dear to us in some way or the other and that they are so apt in their rendering of the action makes the overall feel of the action that much more effective. The final slasher-bit were Ishar Singh takes on the Afghans head on is one of the most thrilling bits of action in the film.

Akshay Kumar is wonderful as Ishar Singh. His beard and moustache look awfully fake and I can’t believe how a director who has done so much right could have okayed that but even with that gross anomaly sticking out of his face, he flawlessly channels your attention and reverence to his performance and energy. Within minutes of him coming on screen, you strike a bond with the man and he effortlessly holds on to your attention until the very end. It’s an out and out Akshay Kumar film not because his character undermines all others but because he is so good here. He instills the kind of respect and reverence that was expected of a man playing Ishar Singh whose strength, courage and humanity made him an almost demi-god. The supporting cast including the antagonists is pitch-perfect. Sumeet Basran as Gurmukh Singh becomes my favorite supporting actor for essaying out a scene that when I saw in Kesari’s first look videos I thought would be terrible. His act in this scene and the manner in which this portion is handled gave me goosebumps. Sumeet Basran builds up his character throughout the narrative to that point of flare. Toranj Kayvon outshines Parineeti Chopra in the two scenes that she has. She is striking and unforgettable.

On the flip side, Kesari is marred by some terrible visual effects. It is a film that is well shot but certain sequences are taken down by the poor VFX. The dialogue at certain points is cringe-worthy. The “Chal Jhutha” line should not have been used. There are also a lot of inconsistencies in the dialogues wherein characters toggle between Punjabi and Hindi which really irritated me and took me out of the experience. The Afghans speak in Hindi among themselves which was a shocker as they started off speaking in Afghan with the British. The character of Ishar Singh is rescued by his men in similar fashion thrice. It felt like déjà vu over and over again which was not in the best interest of the film. It would have helped the film to have been 10 minutes shorter.

Having said all that, Kesari is still a refreshing and absorbing watch. It tells us a story that needs to be told and re-told. I for once had never heard of this story before the name “Saragarhi” came up when Ajay Devgn set out to make it as Sons of Sardar. Anurag Singh gives the pulsating true story a body and a beating heart through his soulful rendering of it that not only grabs our attention with its sheer audacity and indelible charm but also gives us a peek into what makes the 21 Sikhs tick and do what till date remains the bravest act of self sacrifice in the history of warfare. Kesari is a must watch.


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