Kesari: Akshay Kumar's war drama is bolstered by strong supporting cast, inventive action sequences
Kesari addresses multiple weighty issues with empathy but these merely float on the surface as they fail to push the boundary as aggressively as the spectacular war scenes in the film.
Two months after Kangana Ranaut's Rani Lakshmibai biopic Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, another historical war drama hits the theatres this Holi. Anurag Singh's Kesari is set 30 years after the 1857 Mutiny, the era of Manikarnika.
Clearly, the seeds of rebellion have long been sown. They grow into saplings by Kesari when a British Indian Army regiment of 21 Sikh soldiers, led by Havaldar Ishwar Singh (Akshay Kumar), vow to protect the fort of Saragarhi, out of a sense of duty to martyrs, and not because of slavery to the British.
While the film essentially captures the spirit of those valiant soldiers, the film does not dare to emulate their rebellion. It caters to the patriotic sentiment by pushing buttons with Herculean force through high pitches and rousing background score.
The first half is mostly spent in developing the bond between these 21 soldiers. Blame the high number of characters or Anurag and Girish Kohli's half-baked character development, majority of the first half progresses at a sluggish pace. Though every character is given a symbol or a trait to ensure a distinct identifier, one struggles to distinguish between them because of their identical uniforms (commendably designed by Sheetal Iqbal Sharma), similar turbans and matching beards.
However, every soldier gets a moment to shine in the second half when they enter the battlefield against 10,000 Afghan invaders. Each of them leaves a lasting ache with their final visual. For instance, a Sikh soldier looks like a tragic art installation when the Afghans penetrate swords all over his body, leaving him in a bloody pool with swords serving as accessories. The pain embedded in the visual is tangible.
Along with a strong supporting cast (who show potential despite their limited characters) handpicked by casting director Jogi Malang, Parvez Shaikh's inventive action direction helps transport the viewers to the historically ignored battlefield. He works in tandem with the production designer to use weapons relevant in that era to present a balanced mix of hand-to-hand combat and gun fights. As the end approaches, the action becomes poetic but never loses the grit or plausibility that it maintained throughout the film.
The stunts are complemented by Akhilesh Jain's decent visual effects and Anshul Chobey's stunning cinematography. He wins half the battle with the scenic locations. With the glacial Himalayas in the backdrop, the battle unfurls like a flag hoisted with pride atop a lofty peak. The wide expanses, from the mountainous terrain to the deserted lands around the fort make for striking visuals. Chobey, probably with inputs from Anurag, often allows the viewers to read between the frames by addressing the themes of the film through imaginative angles and techniques.
These technical aspects, however, only fill the gaps that could have easily been occupied by the narrative. The fact that Singh's direction, writing and dialogue left so many loopholes to be filled by technical tools does not reflect well on the backbone of the film. Also, editor Manish More is equally at fault here as he could have trimmed the parts with forced humour to make the film more consistent in its tonality.
Akshay Kumar once again delivers a powerful performance. By the end of the film, he sinks his teeth deep into his inspiring character and puts up a chilling act in the climactic battle sequences. The one-against-all predicament, powered by Kumar's indomitable force, makes for a goosebumps-inducing sequence. Parineeti Chopra, who has been reduced to a "special thanks" role in the credits, plays only a serviceable part. Thus, her involvement in the promotion of the film may be misleading for her fans,
Kesari addresses multiple weighty issues like valuing one's conscience over one's position in the political hierarchy and treating people from other religions, whether civilians or soldiers, with empathy. But these merely float on the surface as they fail to push the boundary as aggressively as the spectacular war scenes in the film.
Editor's note: This is the first impression review of Kesari. Read Anna MM Vetticad's review here.
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