Anurag Singh’s visually stunning film starts off slow but leaves you teary eyed
Setting right his turban, talking to his wife in thoughts, and evoking a sense of pride is Hawaldar Ishar Singh for you. And wrenching your hearts making you shed tears is Kesari. 21 Sikhs fighting against 10,000 invaders. Calls for a powerful film, indeed. While the writers of the film had the opportunity to turn the story (already known) to a film filled with valour, nationalism, and determination, they instead make it an emotional journey, and that’s where the film wins you. The color palette of Kesari along with visual richness casts a spell. But what Anurag Singh does in the last 45 mins of the film is beyond any expression that exists.
The film follows the events leading to the Battle of Saragarhi, a military combat under the leadership of Hawladar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) between 21 soldiers of the Sikh Regiment of the British Army and about 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai mountain tribesmen from Afghanistan in 1897.
Written by Anurag Singh himself and Girish Kohli, the film in its basic story line is interesting and gripping. What makes it fall back is disjointed screenplay that lacks conviction and you aren’t able to feel the thump. But good part, this remains true only for the initial run time of the film.
Painting many images that stay with you- dagger stuck in the shoe, soldier resting on the bed of swords, an amateur soldier rising to conviction and walking in fire, and the leader fighting like a king, the film is very well contemporary. The Sikhs here aren’t fighting for British, neither for victory. Instead they are fighting for their independent existence.
The build up to the actual battle has been done very well by the makers, which also establishes the Sikh regiment, their nature, leadership of Ishar Singh, and also how and why Pathans even decide to capture the Fort of Saragarhi. Anurag Singh has done decent and noteworthy effort in making you invested in the little stories, for instance Sikhs helping Muslims build a mosque and an elderly woman giving them an almond each as a way of thanking. Such are moments of gold.
But since the setting of the attack on Saragarhi Fort isn’t interesting in nature (simply to rise in power, you capture the territory), as an audience, you aren’t able to remain invested in the plot, unless you move with the characters.
The film begins slow and you don’t relate to the characters or even the intensity. But it eventually takes the shape of a graph where when you reach the climactic fight sequence, you are completely in the film feeling your nerves running with blood. At this time, you don’t want the film to end.
Its the second half where the film finds its groove and you are also charged with adrenaline. And by the time you reach the climax, you already have goosebumps, and are ready to rise and salute to what you see on screen, for what happened way back in 1897.
Akshay Kumar is in top notch form, right in the character, where you see a great actor in him. You see Ishar Singh and that works greatly in favor of the story. He delivers well.
Parineeti Chopra in a special appearance looks beautiful but she doesn’t have a major say in the plot. She interacts with Akshay in his thoughts, an interesting way to put things across though.
There are actors who make their mark in the Sikh regiment, with excellent display of emotions and feelings. The characterisation has been done with thought. Vansh Bhardwaj as Chanda Singh and Sumeet Singh Basra as Gurmukh Singh shine in particular.
Music by an army of composers does the needful for the story. The songs take the film forward and make you hum them while you are watching the film. The background score by Raju Singh is commendable giving you required mood lifts. Particularly in the action sequences, the score does the talking.
Cinematography by Anshul Choubey is brilliant. The shot compositions, framing, and the elements forming up the sequences make the film visually spectacular. The landscapes- both beautiful and horrifying- are wonderfully portrayed. Production design by Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray too aids the narrative giving you enough to savour. Its simple, but haunting. The vacant frames add to the feel of loneliness projected where characters are aloof.
Editing by Manish More could have been better in a way of making the audience more engaged in the drama. There are various loose ends that could be connected.
The film remains only the visual representation of a simple Google search information, some argue and tarnish the film. But it isn’t right to put the film that way. For that matter, any period film made ever in Bollywood is visual Google. Kesari has some inherent cinematic flaws that too minor, which if avoided could have made the film more likable. But it still remains a great watch, for the kind of emotions it evokes. Watch it, ONLY in theaters. Be ready to weep.