LICH rating: (3.5 / 5)
The movie’s denouement is powerfully moving and uses an emotional mechanism that, strangely, works against it in the first half. Kesari, directed by Anurag Singh, who in co-writing with Girish Kohli, takes a circuitous route to get the heart of his cinematic matter—the Battle of Saragarhi. And in doing so, employs romance and flashbacks to get his protagonist, Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) establish his beating heart credentials: first, in a heart-stopping opening where Ishar defies his superior, Lt. Lawrence (Edward Sonnenblick, very good) to rescue a local damsel in distress; and then, later, as he converses with beloved Jiwani (Parineeti Chopra) to thwack away the reality of his present.
That present is 1897 and Ishar’s posting is what is now the Pakistan-Afghani border, and the 36th Sikhs regiment in the British Indian Army, of which he’s a part of, swaddles three forts to keep the marauding Pashtun tribes at bay. The Battle of Saragarhi that came to pass was one of the fiercest one for the British Indian army, and also the most one-sided, with 21 soldiers defending a fort against a charge of six to ten thousand force of tribals. And that part of the movie throbs with tension and some superb action—I held my breath as I did for Amitabh Bachchan’s Jai in Sholay as he rumbled and tumbled across a creaking rope bridge staving off an endless stream of dacoits.
Likewise here, as Ishar Singh and his contingent use ingenious methods swathed in immeasurable courage to keep pounding at the incoming. Where Kesari stumbles is the time it takes to win your sympathy for the bravehearts, making them clown around and adding a cluck-worthy rooster track. It almost felt for a longish while that I’d stumbled on to a parody of V. Shantaram‘s Do Aankhen Bara Haath.
The supporting cast is very good—Suvinder Vicky, Vansh Bharadwaj, Sumeet Basran, Ajit Singh, Rakesh Sharma, et al—but this is Akshay Kumar’s show all the way. In the stunningly grim landscape—shot in Waai, Maharashtra—the actor towers above all else. His character can draw a perfect circle with his sword on a wooden surface—something I couldn’t manage even with the best of geometric instruments. But when he kicks and flies in the air in a circular death defying ballet, he makes you gasp in wonder. How you wish he’d gotten there sooner.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Kesari is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for strong violence.
Director Anurag Singh Running Time 2h 30min
Writers Anurag Singh, Girish Kohli
Stars Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra,Edward Sonnenblick
Genres Action, Drama, History, War