The war cry of Gobind Singh, the tenth and final Guru, has come to epitomise valour is Sikh folklore: “As a sparrow, I will still fight the eagle to be worthy of the name Gobind Singh.”
These words are still quoted by Sikhs today when it comes to discussing acts of bravery, and Akshay Kumar's latest film Kesari tells the ultimate sparrow vs. eagle tale.
The Battle of Sargarhi is thought of as one of the greatest last stands in history, and yet, most Indians are unaware of it. In September 1897, just 21 soldiers from the Sikh regiment of the British army took on the wrath of more than 10,000 Pashtun fighters – managing to keep their enemy at bay for hours despite inevitable defeat.
As the story is retold in Kesari, Kumar plays the role of Havaldar Ishwar Singh – the soldier who leads the 21 comrades to their final battle. It's the ultimate underdog story, and the film works hard to build empathy for each member of the doomed battalion, with the first half heavily focussed on their personal backstories. There are also plenty of light moments, with one-liners from the soldiers which help to establish Havaldar Ishwar Singh (Kumar) as the clear moral leader of the group.
There are also moments that deviate from the bloody history of the Battle of Sargarhi, including a fleeting appearance from Parineeti Chopra, but by the second half, the film ramps up and it becomes all-out action.
While there is heavy blood spill, the action is let down by its visual effects. And although the true history of the Battle of Sargarhi is a remarkable one, the script does not do it justice and leaves a poor aftertaste.
However, the combination of Kumar, action and a dash of restraint have always been a formidable one and it is no different in Kesari, but the final bloody scenes are somewhat a stretch even for him, pushing him beyond his usual acting repertoire.
The brave and bloody Battle of Sargarhi will remain in the history books, but Kesari is unlikely to join it there.