If Anurag Singh had cut down the number of slow-motion shots in his film by even half, “Kesari” (Saffron) would have been at a bearable length. But much like the battle in this period war drama, Singh stretches proceedings interminably.
Based on the battle of Saragarhi in 1897 where 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh regiment held off a marauding army of Pashtuns, “Kesari” has too little action and too much dialogue, with most of the talking done by its protagonist.
We first meet Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) as a soldier in the British army who is stationed in the Khyber mountains. He doesn’t particularly enjoy his posting, pining for his wife and hating the guts of his dictatorial British officer. When Ishar gets into a tussle with the local Pashtuns, he is sent to Saragarhi fort as a punishment posting.
Ishar arrives at the fort to discover a rag-tag bunch of soldiers who look anything but war-ready, unaware that the Pashtun tribesmen are planning a massive attack. We see much male bonding, pep talks, sanctimonious sermons on secularism and virtue signalling. Ishar helps build a masjid for the locals, and even instructs one of his men to tend to injured soldiers from the enemy camp.
But virtue doesn’t win wars, and the film spends too much time building up Ishar’s credentials as an all-round good guy. By the time the actual battle starts, the audience is likely to be too jaded to actually enjoy the well-choreographed fight scenes. Ishar’s relationship with his wife is told to us in flashbacks but is hardly developed enough to be of any interest.
There is another sub-plot featuring an effete sniper who, for reasons unknown, wears bangles and nail polish but has the best aim in the land. Stranger still, we never find out who this mysterious man is, or why he is out to kill Ishar and his men.
“Kesari” focuses all its energy on Akshay Kumar, who has played the saviour in more films than I could care to count in the recent past. He brings nothing new to the table. Parineeti Chopra, who plays his wife, has to be content with her fleeting role of appearing in flashbacks.
A period war film is not easy to pull off, but “Kesari” falters mainly because it spends too much time talking about war and bravery instead of showing it.
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