Kesari (transl. Saffron) is a 2019 Indian Hindi-language historical action-war film written and directed by Anurag Singh. It was jointly produced by Karan Johar, Aruna Bhatia, Hiroo Yash Johar, Apoorva Mehta and Sunir Khetarpal under the banners of Dharma Productions, Cape of Good Films, Azure Entertainment and Zee Studios. The film stars Akshay Kumar with Parineeti Chopra, Mir Sarwar, Vansh Bhardwaj, Jaspreet Singh, Vivek Saini ,Vikram Kochhar and Rakesh Sharma in supporting roles. It follows the events leading to the Battle of Saragarhi, a battle between 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs of the British Indian Army and 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai Pashtun tribesmen in 1897.
Initially planned as a production collaboration between Salman Khan and Johar with Kumar starring in the lead role, Kesari was announced in October 2017, with Kumar and Johar reprising their responsibilities; Khan later quit the project. Chopra was cast as the wife of Kumar’s character. Principal photography for the film began in January 2018 and concluded in December. The soundtrack was composed by Tanishk Bagchi, Arko Pravo Mukherjee, Chirantan Bhatt, Jasbir Jassi, Gurmoh and Jasleen Royal with lyrics written by Kumaar, Manoj Muntashir, Kunwar Juneja and Bagchi. Produced on a budget of ₹80 crore (US$11 million), the film was distributed internationally by Zee Studios.
The film was released in India during the Holi festival, on 21 March 2019. It received positive reviews from critics; it had a good start at the box office, while the opening day morning collection was affected by Holi-related celebrations. The film grossed over ₹100 crore worldwide in its opening weekend. It grossed over ₹207.09 crore worldwide, becoming one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of 2019.
Havaldar Ishar Singh is a part of the Sikh Regiment of British Indian Army posted at Gulistan fort along the Indian Afghan border. A British officer is jealous of him because of his superior fighting skills and thinks little of the native Indians, deeming them to be cowards. While just returning from a border patrol, the troop sees a group of Afghan tribesmen led by a Mullah named Saidullah trying to kill a married Afghan woman who does not acknowledge her forced marriage. Ishar Singh intervenes, fights off the tribesmen and rescues the woman by killing her husband, thereby disobeying his immediate superior.
Once the troop reaches the base fort, the British officer reports Ishar Singh’s disobedience to his commanding officer who sits at the nearby Lockhart fort. The Afghans then attack the Gulistan fort, but are stopped by Ishar Singh who fights valiantly, killing many Afghans. He is punished and transferred to Saragarhi Fort that sits between Gulistan and Lockhart fort and enables communication between them. When Ishar Singh’s transfer orders are issued, he travels to Saragarhi fort and upon arriving there finds the troop in a mess. He enforces discipline in the troop by punishing all to live without food for an entire week. The troop initially is furious but later respects Ishar Singh on learning that he too was living without food. Meanwhile, Saidullah, forms an alliance between the Afghan tribes and motivates them to mount an attack on the Indian territories as a unified force. Ishar Singh and Lal Singh go to a nearby village in search of their informant who hadn’t reported to them for over three days.
The British Commanding Officer Col. John Haughton from Lockhart fort sees the Afghan Forces marching towards Sargarhi and alerts Ishar. Ishar and his battalion find some ten thousand tribesmen encircling the fort. The Mullah, with the entire Afghan army at his back, kills the woman Ishar Singh had rescued earlier in front of the Saragarhi Fort. Despite the commanding officer’s orders to abandon the fort and flee, Ishar Singh and his men decide to fight till their death. Ishar Singh deploys his force in position. Khuda Daad volunteers to fight but Ishar Singh asks him to instead provide water to the soldiers, to the injured soldiers (Including the Afghans). The Afghans initiate the battle, and Bhagwan Singh is the first to be killed. Gurmukh Singh being an inexperienced soldier, is unable to fight, due to which Ishar Singh asks him to keep the CO updated regarding the battle, and decides to prolong the battle so as to prevent the Afghans from advancing to the Gulistan and Lockhart forts. As the battle prolongs, Lal Singh alone fights the Afghans outside the fort and dies while asking one of the sepoys to close the gate to the fort. Meanwhile, the Afghans manage to destroy the back wall of the fort using explosives.
Ishar Singh remembers his wife Jeevani one last time after removing the stripes from his uniform and starts fighting the Afghans with a red-hot sword, before he gets fatally stabbed. Saidullah kills Khuda Daad before himself being stabbed to death by Ishar while trying to remove his turban. Ishar’s bravery impresses an Afghan chieftain who orders his men not to touch any Sikh’s turban. One of the Afghan chieftains named Gul Badshah, orders the signalling post to be lit up so Gurmukh Singh’s painful screams can be heard as a consolation. As the Afghans set the post on fire, Gurmukh Singh emerges with his body on fire. He chants “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akaal” thrice, grabs Gul Badshah and triggers the grenades attached to his body, resulting in a huge explosion. The shout echoes and reaches both the nearby forts. The Sikh soldiers present there also start chanting in the name of their Guru. The surviving Afghans loot the fort and eventually set it on fire. The British Parliament honours the martyrs with a two-minute silence and posthumously awards them the Indian Order of Merit, at that time the highest gallantry award an Indian soldier could receive, with the Victoria Cross being the corresponding one.
Akshay Kumar as Havaldar Ishar Singh
Parineeti Chopra as Jeevani Kaur
Mir Sarwar as Khan Masud
Ashwath Bhatt as Gul Badshah Khan
Rakesh Chaturvedi as Mullah Saidullah
Vivek Saini as Sep. Jiwan Singh
Pritpal Pali Sep. Gurmukh singh
Vikram Kochhar as Sep. Gulab Singh
Suvinder Vicky as Nk. Lal Singh
Vansh Bharadwaj as L/Nk. Chanda Singh
Ravinder Pawar as Sep. Attar Singh
Surmeet Singh Basra as Sep. Gurmukh Singh
Ajit Singh Mahela as Sep. Nand Singh
Sandeep Nahar as Sep. Buta Singh
Harvinder Singh as Sep. Daya Singh
Rakesh Sharma as Sep. Bhola Singh
Adhrit Sharma as Sep. Uttam Singh
Harbhagwan Singh as Sep. Bhaghwan Singh
Rajdeep Singh Dhaliwal as Sep. Ram Singh
Gurpreet Toti as Sep. Saheb Singh
Harry Brar as Sep. Sunder Singh
Pali Sandhu as Sep. Narayan Singh
Vikram Singh Chauhan as Sep. Hira Singh
Gugneet Singh as Sep. Jiwan Singh
Jaspreet Singh as Taklu
Toranj Kayvon as Gulwarien
Edward Sonnenblick as Lt. Lawrence
Brahma Mishra as Daad
Muzamil Bhawani as Marksman/Sniper