The weight of the turban? One kilo. The sword? Four kilos. The decibel level of Akshay Kumar facing his adversaries? Immeasurable.
“If there is one man who can stand and scream at a battalion of people, it is Akshay Kumar, and if he had not agreed to do the film, it would not have seen the light of day,” producer Karan Johar said about the upcoming patriotic drama Kesari at a promotional event in Mumbai on Friday.
Anurag Singh’s period film is based on the legend of the Battle of Saragarhi of 1897, in which 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army held their positions against 10,000 Afghani tribesmen. The Sikh regiment in the film is led by Akshay Kumar’s Ishar Singh. The movie, which also stars Parineeti Chopra, Mir Sarwar and Ashwath Bhatt, will be released on Holi on March 21.
Co-written by Girish Kohli and Anurag Singh, and directed by Anurag Singh (Jatt & Juliet, Disco Singh, Punjab 1984), the film has been produced by Johar’s Dharma Productions, Cape of Good Films and Azure Entertainment. The film marks Singh’s second Hindi film after Raqeeb (2007), which was followed by a string of Punjabi hits. “I couldn’t have asked for a better film to have done at this point,” Singh said at the event. “I am really proud that I am re-entering Hindi cinema with this film.”
Research for the production included the details of the saffron turbans worn by Kumar and the other soldiers. The turban symbolises responsibility in the film, Akshay Kumar said. “Whenever I used to wear the pagdi, the spine would become straight due to the weight on the head,” he declared.
The historic battle has previously inspired two adaptations: the television series 21 Sarfarosh - Saragarhi 1897 (2018), starring Mohit Raina, and the British documentary Saragarhi: The True Story (2017).
“Even the British celebrate Saragarhi Day,” Kumar said. “Twenty-one Sikhs are inside a fort and they know that there are 10,000 people outside to kill them. Death is confirmed. But for the sake of their country, gurus, their honour and the people, they put up a fight.”
Two other adaptations were previously announced: Rajkumar Santoshi’s film with Randeep Hooda in the lead, and a project produced by Ajay Devgn. While Devgn has reportedly postponed his version, Santoshi’s movie has reportedly been shelved.
Akshay Kumar leapt at the opportunity to headline Anurag Singh’s version of events after he heard the narration. “Who wouldn’t want to be a story of such courage?” the actor said. “This is a beautiful subject. And by hook or crook, I just wanted to be part of it.”
Kumar’s preparation for the film was minimal, since the screenplay had already been fleshed out, he added. “All the research was done by Anurag – he had answers to all my questions as his research went on for over a year,” Kumar said. “This film has been an emotional journey for me.”
Parineeti Chopra plays Kumar’s wife in the film – a role that is relatively minor since the focus is on the battle. “Kesari was that one film where I did not think about silly things like screen-time,” Chopra said. “When Karan called me to his office and told me the one-liner and also played a romantic number from the movie, I said yes instantly.”
Kesari seems to tap into the nationalistic fervour that is being whipped up after the deaths of 40 Indian security personnel in a terrorist attack in February in Pulwama. “The film is about India and Indians, it will be timely any day,” Johar said. “It is not about reliability, as a film like this can make a connection with Indians during any circumstance.”