Films, they say, reflect the state of the society. Though Kesari is based on a true battle, there is a slight calibration that slants the tone towards nationalism which is also reflected in the name of the film. The year is 1897, India has already fought its First War of Independence. There is mutual distrust. The British officers dislike the soldiers they command while the soldiers themselves simmer under British subjugation. And then there are the Afghans, who are smarting from the increasing British influence.
Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a soldier who does not let a superior’s orders stop him from doing the right thing. In this case, save a woman from Islamic fundamentalists. For his insubordination, Ishar is sent to Saragarhi, a fort that is not expected to see much action. The fort is manned by a rag tag bunch of soldiers who are neither disciplined nor motivated. It is up to Ishar to get these men in fighting mode. Noting much happens in the first half while the film establishes the goodness of Ishar Singh. He is a loving husband and an honorable man who believes in fairness even in battle. The director is careful not to venture away from the battle location and it serves him well. The view is beautiful, rugged and sets the tone for the second half, when the real battle takes place.
The actual fight is the film’s main staple and once the action begins, there’s no letting go. The soldiers know very well that they are going to get slaughtered, yet the fight has not left them. There is enough back story to make the viewers feel their loss as they die fighting. However, not much effort has been made to flesh out their characters as such. Ishar Singh’s own story of a wife back home is just enough to make him more human. British and Afghans are cardboard characters. This is a linear story telling. The good, the bad and the ugly have been established right in the beginning. There are no grey areas, nothing points to the complex struggles between Britain and Russia as they tried to spread their influence over Afghanistan. Russia has been mentioned just once, that too in passing reference. It is true that a call for jihad was given by the Mullah, which forms the pivot for the ensuing battle.
The film depends heavily on Akshay to pull the film through. To his credit, he has done a commendable job. He is restrained in a film where it was easy to overact. He brings a certain sincerity to his character even in scenes which are exaggerated. Parineeti Chopra as Ishar Singh’s wife does not have much to do. The songs, at many places, are reminiscent of the National Anthem.
Though a bit too long, the film for the most part is gripping. Anurag Singh knows how to ramp up the heat so that you don’t mind when the bodies start piling. This is a film that will do well both in multiplexes and single screens. Another winner for Akshay Kumar and the Kesari team.