This year in Bollywood is going to be like a visit to the ice cream parlour. Confused? Let me explain. It’s like you’ve got all these flavours of ice-cream and you want to choose exactly what flavour fits your taste buds the most. But at the end of it, you’re still having ice-cream!
Oh was I still not clear? Ice-cream here is the metaphor for patriotic films this year. Uri, Manikarnika, Accidental Prime Minister, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister, the upcoming PM Narendra Modi – and now Kesari. Valour, bravery, patriotic song and glory! Evil British, evil enemies and Janab Janabing Muslims who are our protagonists’ greatest foes. Kesari, in that, is the Mad Max version of patriotic films of 2019 where everything that is dusty and brown and death and destruction is literally coming at you from every which way. But there is scarcely any nuance – like most films trumpeting to make their mark and hollering to make their point heard.
Directed by Anurag Singh, Akshay Kumar runs this war story which narrates the iconic battle of Saragarhi where 21 Sikh soldiers defended the fort from Afghan invaders. Saragarhi now exists in modern day Pakistan but back then, since there was no Hindustan or Pakistan - just a united India - British imperial soldiers were employing all Indians to fight against invaders. Instead of building the narrative about the haunting irony of such a battle or the bringing forth the notes of humanity and collective grief and suffering in a situation like that, the film begins with a politically incorrect depiction of Afghans.
Please. Please. No one does Janabs in Afghanistan! No one does Janab in Pakistan! Bollywood. Dear, sweet, hard-working Bollywood. Where you’ve put that much effort in creating CGI, effects, burning soldiers and exploding bombs, just one Pakistan or Afghanistan consultant can make the films look a tad bit more authentic when you’re building up characters.
As far as political correctness of the film goes, there are some saving graces by scriptwriters Anurag Singh and Girish Kohli but it’s always one step forwards and two steps backwards. As soon as you begin to think – oh hey, there’s a non-mainstream denomination that doesn’t look evil – oh wait. They just chopped someone’s head off. Ah well. Okay then, moving on.
From Akshay’s distracting beard-wig to the sexist and homophobic slurs, there are definitely some serious weak points to Kesari. People look at the bombs before they explode. Like is ke andar se cake nahin nikle ga… you should be screaming bhaaagooooo. Then everyone waits to attack the hero who takes a good 20 minutes to die. And oh dear, those 20 minutes made my head hurt. I thought I had heard enough bullets to last me a lifetime when I watched Uri but nope. Apparently I have heard now enough bombs and bullets to last at least two more lifetimes.
That said, the film is definitely not as boring as Manikarnika though it still has white dudes whitesplaining and brown people nerdraging. Some stunning shots & some great cinematography stops the film from being the drab one would expect it to be. There are some excellent graphics, convincing sound design and some very humane and authentic sequences that are very well pieced together. Though there is that mandatory sequence of two bros trash talking each other.
The one romantic song – a romantic song in the middle of a war film that is something only Bollywood can pull off – is actually very sweet and melodious. The background score by Raju Singh is no doubt extremely powerful. The romance is tastefully added and whatever we see of Parineeti Chopra in the film is tasteful, impactful and serves the purpose of humanizing the story. But just a little bit. The second half of the film is more war, plunder, death, destruction, blood, fire than anything you’ve probably seen Akshay Kumar in. People loading and unloading ammunition is like a headache inducing bad 40 minute boomerang.
If I may give a suggestion to the director… the next film you make, please let it be a comedy film. Because those were the highest points of the film. The big speeches, the Islamophobic rants are just not your thing and I really think you should just give it a hard pass next time. I mean naara e takbeer? Come on. Do better! Akshay Kumar is quite brilliant as Ishar Singh and the supporting cast is equally effective. One really wishes that the Pashtuns didn’t sound like Nawabs of Lucknow and it wasn’t as whitewashed as how the antagonist is the ultimate barbarian and the other is the saint.
There are some really important lessons too, dispensed in the film. “Maut saaray farq mita dendi ay’ – wish that had come out as the top lesson in the film rather than the idea that everyone is evil except those whose side YOU are on.
Watch the video review here
What’s the verdict? 2 Panadol extras. You will need them after you watch the film.