21 soldiers holding off thousands of invaders … Sounds very filmy, no? But here is the thing. Life's lessons learnt from history prove that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. And why just stranger? Truth is far more stimulating and enriching too. Kesari proves it. Digging out a little known uncelebrated chunk of unbelievable bravery, it makes us proud not just as Indians but also as a country that produces cinema of the highest calibre.
So take bow, Anurag Singh for directing a film which will be remembered by many generations of Indian moviegoers as a turning point in the war genre of cinema.
Unlike the imposters that stalk the silver screen with their phoney nationalism and exasperating jingoism Kesari puts its money where its mouth is. The actors playing the 21 incredibly courageous Sardarjis who took on the Afghani invasion, speak of the pride for their country with no effort to create an impression. These soldiers mean business. When pitched against the worst odds, they know they are destined to die. And yet they fight to their last breath. Why? Because there is a country to be protected.
Kesari doesn't valorise death. But it certainly throws the idea of patriotic pride at us at a pitch we've never seen or heard before. And I don't just mean Raju Singh's background music which unnecessarily compounds the intrinsically dramatic action scenes. That's not the only irrelevant augmentation that this flawlessly-written film suffers, Parineeti Chopra as Havildar Ishar Singh's phantom-wife serves no purpose except to add a touch of muliebrity to this pointedly masculine film.
Kesari is an astonishing achievement. Like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat the second-half of the nerve-wracking drama is devoted entirely to the battle between the 21 Sikh soldiers against thousands of Islamic invaders who are shot like crawling insects in aerial shots that turn the turgidity of war into a sharply aesthetic celebration of war sentiments.
This is not a film for the pacifists. Kesari tells us, when you got to fight you've got to give it your best shot even when you know the outcome. No amount of praise is sufficient for the cast. Every actors playing the 21 Sikh soldiers seems to own his part in the way the girls in Shah Rukh Khan's hockey team owned their parts in Chak De.
As for Akshay Kumar, is there any doubt that he is today's finest star-actor in Hindi cinema? The restrained passion (evident in his transformed body language and his propensity to state the truth without demur) that he brings to Ishar Singh's part is sure to get him the National award this year. I am sure if Ishar were be alive he would have wanted to convey nationalistic valour with the same muted ruggedness as Akshay Kumar.
Of course these men who fought the battle of Saragarhi were spectacularly brave. But the men behind this film also display exemplary courage and confidence. Kesari is nearly flawless in its rendition of a battle of unequals where one man's obstinacy becomes a nation's abiding pride and honour.
Don't miss this film even if you watch only two films a year.