Kesari: A Brilliantly Shot War Drama That Disappoints You With Its Exaggerations
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
When it comes to history, realism is a beautiful thing. Pieces of history being retold always end up moving you for one reason, the fact that it really happened. This is what separates it from fiction that still holds the promise of entertainment but somehow, history is so much more. Even though Kesari is a largely entertaining film, it makes the mistake of combining fiction and history to give you an exaggerated account of the historic battle of Saragarhi in 1897. This mistake costs the film heavily and because of this, you overlook some of the greater parts of the film. Nevertheless, the hard work and vision that has gone behind the staging of Kesari cannot be ignored. It is earnest, excellent and it is one of the aspects that saves the film from being absolutely terrible.
Set in 1897, in India’s pre-independent era, Kesari is based on the historic battle of Saragarhi, where 21 Sikh Soldiers of the 36th Sikhs regiment fight on behalf of the British army to defend their land by fighting 10,000 Pathan soldiers till their last breath to keep them from breaching the British Indian Contingent. Led by Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar), the 21 brave soldiers, their families, their bravery and their undeterred love for their nation is presented as a dramatized account to you in the film.
Kesari isn’t a film you would regret watching. In fact, for most people, the heroism and nationalism portrayed in Kesari are probably what they grew up watching. Even though the film is flawed, it is very hard to dismiss it as a whole because it retells one of the bravest last stands in history. But not re-telling it with enough realism is the reason for its downfall.
In the film, the protagonists have no other option than to be only righteous whereas the antagonists cannot be anything but ruthless. The truth is skewed to suit this whitewashing and this is what makes the film so one dimensional. Take, for instance, the film’s portrayal of the Sikh soldiers. Right from the start, the makers ensure that you know that these soldiers are at a rebellion with the British army. There is even a dialogue delivered by a British general that degrades them. But in reality? They were defending the British Indian Contingent on behalf of the British Army. This is the reality, so why whitewash it? Surely, nobody would question the patriotism of these soldiers or their wishes for an independent India. But this is the problem with Indian Cinema, isn’t it? A hero can only be a hero. If he is a hero, he must not have grey areas at all. The makers here seem to believe, flaws in a national hero is simply unacceptable. So, he is ALWAYS in the right. Whereas the villains? They cannot have even an ounce of good in them, so they’re all portrayed as ruthless goons, rapists, abusers, looters and so on.
This manner of developing characters as either black or white with no grey area is what makes them so unrelatable and unrealistic. As author Dan Brown once said ‘There must be just a thin line of difference between a protagonist and an antagonist”. This is the only way to make them interesting. Both of them are serving a cause, but the difference between them is the fact that one would go to any lengths to meet that cause whereas the other would still want to make sure no one is hurt. Apart from this, both the villain and the hero are human after all, so why make them representations of pure evil or pure goodwill? This black and white manner of making films is fortunately not of relevance any longer.
One of the film’s other problems is the fact that it completely sheds its essence as a war drama to become a film that worships a single hero. Sure, Ishar is definitely a brave soldier. But how can the writers of Kesari let the hero take precedence of realism and history? There are many scenes in which Ishar is unscathed by explosions, attacks and he even manages to intimidate the Pathan soldiers just by his roar. Why does heroism always need to be portrayed in this unrealistic and exaggerated manner? In this time and age, heroism is no longer relevant or convincing unless it is backed by intelligence. But instead of ensuring that the 21 Sikhs have worthy contenders, the Pathans and the British generals are reduced to dumb, hatred spewing caricatures just so that the Sikh soldiers look great.
As Havildar Ishar Singh, Akshay Kumar is terrific. He steps into his character’s shoes with ease and delivers a performance that is absolutely heartfelt. Even in the overly dramatized sequences, Akshay’s earnestness makes it bearable. From his voice modulations to his character’s physical and emotional demeanor, it is clear that the actor has strived to deliver a convincing portrayal. Parineeti Chopra’s character has no scope and an extremely limited screen presence. You get glimpses other Sikh soldiers and their background and this helps you emotionally invest in their journey too.
Cinematography and action choreography are the film’s biggest strengths. The brutal stretches in the battlefield are choreographed in a racing manner to keep the tension intact. But it makes you wonder how such violence was only issued a U/A certification. Anshul Chobey’s cinematography does justice to the period the film is set in while also bringing in enormous amounts of drama to the frame by putting into play, innovative visuals.
On the whole, Kesari is an average film that could’ve been great had it stuck to the facts. This exaggerated version though is not smart enough to deemed unforgettable.