Kesari Movie Review: An underwhelming showcase of an important Indian history

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Kesari pins its hopes on getting loud cheers (which it does get) for action sequences that are filled with intrepidity

Even before the film begins, there is a note that clearly says that this is based on the Battle of Saragarhi that also includes fictitious depictions. This did reflect onto the screen as Akshay Kumar, one of the biggest commercial actors in Bollywood, revels in the heroic fights in this painstakingly long drawn-out film. As a matter of fact, the very first fight sequence, where Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) jumps up in the air and shoots a man, foretold what’s in store for us. This is a film that pins its hopes on getting loud cheers (which it does get) for action sequences that are filled with intrepidity. Once the brief history is portrayed and the causes behind the battle are established in the entire first half of the movie, you realise that there is still another half of the movie left to endure. Director Anurag Singh’s Kesari (Saffron) is the account of how 21 soldiers of Sikh regiments show bravery and fight till death to combat thousands of men.

You don’t really need someone to spoon feed the patriotism in you. You should be able to feel it while watching a film. ‘Lagaan’, India’s rare gem that was shortlisted for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instilled a feeling of pride in every Indian. But there weren’t any forced instances of making us feel so. Except for the story that is set during the British rule, both Lagaan and Kesari are entirely different (with the former clearly outclassing the latter in triggering the emotions). By reiterating dialogues like Indians are “Ghulam” (Slave) to British and are “Darpok” (Coward) or “Pag ko haath nahi lagana” (Do not dare touch my turban), there is a definite effort being taken in Kesari to intensify the moments. As an Indian, I did understand the gravity of these dialogues and where they stem from, but such forced triggers hardly moved me.

On the contrary, some of the less emphasised scenes were much more interesting and I could only wish if those moments could stay longer. Parineeti Chopra, who fills the spot of Ishar Singh’s love-interest, lends much-needed warmth during the brief stay and even Akshay Kumar’s calm and jovial attitude in her presence is a loveable portrayal. The pre-battle comedic instances are transient and yet so nice (When Ishar Singh smirks behind the door thinking of how his men have misinterpreted a hen’s ‘Kook-Doo-Koo’ sound as ‘Cook’ or when he purposely visits a soldier’s room repeatedly to see him standing there and saluting him). Even Ishar Singh’s funny interaction with an Afghani girl, where neither of them knows each other’s language, is a great addition. Ishar’s kind gestures of offering water to the injured men or helping to build a mosque were unexpected and touching.

Kesari does serve the purpose of reminding Indians of a history that is not talked about or even taught in Indian schools. But it fails to leave the kind of impact that it intends to. It remains a forgettable affair.