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Movie Review by my Friend

#Kesari

Its just something about the Sikhs, that makes them so special. Having just come back from Amritsar and experiencing their good hearts and a very strong sense of being Khalsa, I completely identified with 36 Sikh, the regiment which immortalised the battle of Saraharhi. Also having spent all my childhood surrounded by them in my father’s regiment, their banter, turn of phrase and little life vignettes were very real to me. So connecting with Ishar Singh and his band of 21 soldiers was no trouble at all.

But I think, anyone who watches Kesari will be able to immediately feel and believe the obstinate pride and simple sense of right and wrong that Ishar Singh displays. And in his matured, more layered performance Akshay Kumar is a natural fit to take a Sikh character from the silliness of Singh is King to the fiery Havaldar Ishar Singh with a sense of belief and realism.

A patriotic war film is always tricky to do. How much jingoism is too much and how much blood and gore will be enough. And Kesari has a good dose of both. But in a good way.

The first half is a bit slow and Anurag Singh, the director, takes his time building the characters and establishing the storyline set in the amazing panorama of the North west frontier where the skirmishes with the Afghan tribes was commonplace. Ishar Singh and his Sikh compatriots are quite happy following orders from their Gora British Sahibs, till one incident where they come across a mullah ordering a beheading of a woman and Ishar defies his officer’s orders to rush to her rescue. Of course there are repercussions. And in addition to a transfer to Saragarhi a sleepy outpost, he also gets a condescending lecture on Indians being gulams and a final cocky four letter send off from his Gora officer. All this leaves him seething. But has to be soon forgotten as he arrives at Saragarhi to find a motley group of soldiers who pass time in slovenly unsoldier-like pastimes. His tussle with his band of boys and finally establishing himself as their leader takes up the first half of the film. Nice but nothing really battle like about it.

But the second half of the film really jumps into the battle fray. The Afghan tribes mount an ambitious plan to capture the three main forts in the region and decide to start with Saragarhi which they estimate will be an easy win as it is just an outpost. But they haven’t reckoned with Ishar and his all consuming commitment, passion and madness which see no barriers once he makes up his mind. And when he decides to fight, not for pay or paltan but for the idea of his country and wears his kesari turban to embody the spirit and pride of Sikhism and also his nation, he manages to ignite his 21 soldiers to take on the might of thousands and the battle of Saragarhi begins.

The film really opens up then and one experiences the panoramic rugged vistas of the north west mountains and the toughness of the tribes who live there.

The battle scenes have been shot with fervour and one experiences both sides with their strategies of warfare and can envisage how completely crazy but still quite believable the turn of events were, in the course of the many hours that the Sikh soldiers manage to hold off the waves of Afghans and hold the fort till it is too late for them to conquer and move forward to the next fort as they had originally planned.

The battle scenes are visceral and the shots up close and wide are all really beautiful and capture the essence, energy and focus in a way that though they are gory, there is a sense of purpose and realism, though of course exaggerated for the glory of the story.

Another aspect which is appealing in the film is the conscious effort of the director to keep from absolutes of black and white in most of the characters and so there is no broad brush of bad and good even within the enemy and the British officers. This makes for a kinder story and one which celebrates the unbelievable bravery of the 21 Sikh soldiers without unnecessarily belittling the enemy.

So Kesari is a well told story of an important but little known part of our history and is a film worth watching for how it’s told, the amazing cinematography, the beautifully haunting music and for the characters led by Akshay Kumar, ably supported by a cast which all fit their roles really well and also by Parineeti Chopra, who comes across as a real ‘thet punjaban’ in her small cameo. Each character has been lovingly etched and so even though small, every story is remembered.

I would give the film a 3.5 stars. And would say one should watch it on the big screen to really appreciate the glory of the backdrop of this story.

On another note, the story is set in the north west frontier region, which is now part of Pakistan and one just feels so sad that our country was so viciously divided, and today the sacrifices of men like Ishar Singh and many more who fought for their homeland have been so callously put aside because what they fought for is no longer ours. My visit to Amritsar, Wagah, Jallianwala Bagh made me think of the unkind cut so deep between our neighbours and us that brothers are no longer brothers and blood is no longer blood.

But stories like Kesari and the battle of Saragarhi are reminders that there was once a time when our men gave up their lives for keeping the homeland, as they knew it then, safe. A salute to the spirit and sacrifice of soldiers then and also now as they continue to fight for what they hold most dear. Their country and nation.

 

Movie Review : 13 Feb 2019

Uri : The Surgical Strike

Does writing a review of a movie almost a month after it’s release count? I wondered as I went to watch Uri last night. I haven’t watched a film in the last three months, and now watching Uri so many weeks after release seems to make a review quite redundant….but I persist anyways. So my dear readers, please indulge me and to see if you agree or disagree.

A couple of weeks ago, in a leadership meeting at work, one of the speakers opened his speech with the war cry from the film. He asked with energy- How’s the josh? And about 90% of the group there responded- High Sir!
Not having watched the film, it took me a moment to understand where this came from, and then it got me thinking. If so many people could instantly identify with and own a war cry like that with such enthusiasm and pride then this movie had definitely made its mark.

So as I sat in the theatre last night I waited to see if I felt the same way. Of course being from a army family, it’s pretty much a given that I would identify and feel the josh. But Uri as a film is more than just a jingoistic army movie.

The script, storyline and the tight telling of this tale puts Uri amongst the notable and memorable war films of our times, not just in India but across the world.

The characters led by the amazing Vicky Kaushal created an army world which even we as insiders from that world could believe. And while the prime focus is on the character of Major Vihaan Shergill, every character in the film is etched well and has a strong valid place in the story, thus making the film about the team and by extension the nation, rather than just a one man story to celebrate.

Notable in the film are Kirti Kulhari who plays a air force pilot with a real sense of deep commitment. She comes across as really natural in her role, and doesn’t overplay her body language (which tends to happen with women who portray characters in typically masculine jobs). Swaroop Sampat as his mother with Alzheimer’s is really believable. As is Paresh Rawal who in his role of a Defense Secretary really brings out the kind of tension that a man who needs to helm an operation of this depth and complexity would have.

The cinematography, editing, music and the dialogue are all superlative and give us a higher plain view while still taking us through the film as empathetic insiders, sitting tightly wound in our seats waiting for the operation to come to a victorious end.

Some of the stories and characters in the film do seem clearly added in and remind us that this is a fictional story based on a real life event.

The characters of the prime minister and his cabinet have been so matched up, that it leaves us with no doubt as to who these people were and what part they supposedly played in the planning and execution of the famous ‘Surgical Strike’.

And that brings me to the other argument which did the rounds at the time when the actual terrorist attack on the Uri camp happened and the much talked about retaliatory surgical strike which India answered with. The skeptics said it was fictional then and many continue to say that today and thus have labeled he film as propoganda.

Here’s what I felt then, and I feel now after watching the film. I can’t be sure whether the surgical strike happened for real. That would be tale only a few insiders would know for sure. But I know this, if it did happen and the film (undoubtedly after some help from the Ministry of Defence to get much of the inside story on the incident) captures the die hard spirit of the armed forces, the real life frustrations, the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families and above all, the real and present passion and commitment to actually go out there and die for the nation. That is real and no cynic can take that away from those men on the borders and also those of us who have seen and experienced it for real.

So I’d like to believe with great pride that the Uri story is real and that it was a strategically smart war hand to play (given the international pressures of the time). When the media was flooded with stories about the surgical strike they had the exact impact that the government intended then. The government has managed to also leverage the power of Bollywood to tell stories like Uri and Pokharan and while it may seem strategic, these are stories that the country can and should own with pride.

So propaganda or not, the film is memorable and stands on its own merits as s story told with great skill, passion and belief. Every aspect of it – from the amazing writing and direction by Aditya Dhar supported by his excellent cast and crew, showed belief and passion in the project. Together they have given us a film which made us feel the Josh.

So if Uri happened, it is a operation that makes me proud of our armed forces. And if as the naysayers say, it didn’t happen, hey, the film told us a great story. And since, ultimately, this is a film review….in my opinion, Uri is a 4.5 star film and if you haven’t caught it yet, go see it before it leaves theatres. You can see it on tv later too, but whatever it is, don’t miss this one.
I am sure, like me, you will feel the Josh!

As written by my friend!