Dharma Productions’ Kesari (UA) is about the battle of Saragarhi of 1897, in which 21 Sikhs of the Indian army gave a tough fight to 10,000-plus Afghani invaders.

Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) is an Indian armyman who works for the Britishers who ruled India in 1897. One day, he saves an Afghani girl (Toranj Kayvon) from the Afghanis who are out to kill her. This infuriates the Afghanis so much that they attack India. Consequently, the British officers, as a punishment, transfer Ishar Singh to Saragarhi which has a skeletal army regiment.

Saragarhi fort is between the forts of Gulistan and Lockhart. Very quietly, the Afghanis attack Saragarhi one day. The plan is to first capture the Saragarhi fort and then proceed to capture the forts of Gulistan and Lockhart. Ishar Singh has only 20 more Sikhs, besides himself, while the Afghanis are more than 10,000 in number! Rather than running away from Saragarhi, the 21 Sikhs give such a tough fight to the over-10,000 Afghanis that it shocks the world. Ultimately, of course, the 21 Sikhs are killed but the British government is forced to honour all of them posthumously.

Girish Kohli and Anurag Singh have written a story based on the real Saragarhi battle. The story has patriotism as its catchword and it, therefore, succeeds in evoking feelings of patriotism in the viewers. The duo’s screenplay is engaging for a good part. It does get boring at places but it comes on track soon enough after the dips. The interval point gives the audience hope of a far more engaging second half – and the post-interval portion is indeed very engaging, besides being entertaining and exciting. The friendly banter between the 21 Sikhs, the plan to face the Afghanis, and the actual battle are all so lively and entertaining that they consume the viewers. The angle of Ishar Singh speaking lies to his team mates is very good and evokes a feeling of pride in the viewers. The screenplay takes care to inject the drama with dollops of patriotism. Once the battle begins, the drama becomes so engaging that it is difficult to take one’s eyes off the screen. The valiant fight put up by the 21 Sikhs before the forces are replenished is truly terrific. Having said that, it must be added that the war scenes are quite raw and the women audiences will, therefore, find the same a bit too gruesome. The duo’s dialogues are both, weighty and quite punch-packed.

Akshay Kumar does a very fine job as Ishar Singh. His get-up is different from all his previous films and although it may appear a bit outlandish, it will not be a minus point if only because the audiences get used to the get-up within minutes of the film starting. Akshay breathes fire into the action scenes and is truly terrific in the battle scenes. Parineeti Chopra has a tiny role as Jiwani Kaur but she does a fine job. Surmeet Singh Basra performs wonderfully as Gurmukh Singh. Suvinder Vicky is lovely as Naik Lal Singh. Vansh Bharadwaj makes his presence very well felt, in the role of Lance Naik Chanda Singh. Ajit Singh Mahela is effective as Nand Singh. Rakesh Sharma makes a mark as Bhola Singh. Harbhagwan Singh has his moments as Bhagwan Singh. Vik­ram Kocchar is alright as Gulab Singh. Brahma Mishra is endearing in the role of Khuda Daad. Rakesh Chaturvedi is excellent as Mullah. Mir Sarwar makes a fine impression as Khan Masud. Ashwath Bhatt is good as Gul Badshah Khan. Edward Sonnenblick (as Lt. Lawrence), Richard Klein (as Major Des-Voeux) and Mark Bennington (as Lt. Col. Haughton) provide good support. Toranj Kayvon is nice as Gulwarien. The rest of the actors are adequate.

Anurag Singh’s direction is very good. He has handled the subject with the sensitivity it deserves. His narrative style succeeds in evoking feelings of patriotism in the hearts of the view­ers. The emotional appeal for the Sikh audiences is tremendous. Music (by Tanishk Bagchi, Arko, Chirantan Bhatt, Jasbir Jassi, Gurmoh and Jasleen Royal) is soulful. The last song has haunting melody. Lyrics (Kumaar, Manoj Muntashir, Tanishk Bagchi and Kunwar Juneja) are nice. Raju Singh’s background music is of a fine standard. Anshul Chobey’s cinematography is excellent. Parvez Shaikh and Lawrence Woodward’s action scenes and stunts are fantastic. Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray’s production designing is very good. Manish More’s editing could’ve been tighter but it is, nevertheless, nice.

On the whole, Kesari is a box-office winner. It will do very well at the ticket windows. Business in East Punjab and Delhi will be excellent. It will join the 100-crore club very fast.

-KOMALNAHTA