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Akshay Kumar in Kesari (2019)

Based on an incredible true story of the Battle of Saragarhi in which an army of 21 Sikhs fought against 10,000 Afghans in 1897. Based on an incredible true story of the Battle of Saragarhi in which an army of 21 Sikhs fought against 10,000 Afghans in 1897. Based on an incredible true story of the Battle of Saragarhi in which an army of 21 Sikhs fought against 10,000 Afghans in 1897.

  • Anurag Singh
  • Girish Kohli
  • Akshay Kumar
  • Parineeti Chopra
  • Suvinder Vicky
  • 367 User reviews
  • 25 Critic reviews
  • 9 wins & 28 nominations

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  • Havildar Ishar Singh

Parineeti Chopra

  • Naik Lal Singh
  • Lance Naik Chanda Singh
  • Gurmukh Singh
  • (as Sumeet Basran)

Sandeep Nahar

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  • Uttam Singh
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  • Trivia The huge turban that Akshay Kumar wore weighed about 6 kg.
  • Goofs A crate of .303 Ball ammo is visible in one scene at main gate crate itself is stamped 10-06-51.
  • Alternate versions In India, the theatrical released received a UA rating with cuts in violence and language along with a modification in the disclaimer. Total duration of cuts amounted to 30 seconds (18 violence and 12 disclaimer) and 17 seconds (new disclaimer) were replaced with alternate footage.
  • Connections Featured in 65th Amazon Filmfare Awards (2020)
  • Soundtracks Ek Onkaar Vocals by Jasbir Singh Jassi Lyrics by Guru Gobind Singh Music by Jasbir Singh Jassi

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  • Runtime 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Dolby Atmos

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Kesari movie review: This Battle of Saragarhi film pins all its hopes on Akshay Kumar

kesari movie information

Kesari movie review: Akshay Kumar brings yet another tale of bravery to Bollywood. He plays Havildar Ishar Singh in this film based on the Battle of Saragarhi.

Kesari Director: Anurag Singh Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra Rating: 2/5

Kesari movie review: This Akshay Kumar film is based on the historical battle of Saragarhi.

One of history’s most stunning last stands, The Battle of Saragarhi featured valour that warrants a legend. On 12 September 1897, a mere twenty one Sikh soldiers defied thousands of Afghan tribesmen attacking the strategic military outpost of Saragarhi in the Khyber Pass. It is something that has not been taught in Indian schools — perhaps because it was about protecting a colonial British Indian outpost from colonised Afghan locals — but the bravery of these men deserves salutation.

Does it also, however, deserve this film? Anurag Singh’s Kesari first maps the terrain of comedy, with the valiant Jat Sikhs of Saragarhi depicted as a bunch of sloppy, inefficient men walking around without their uniforms and making feeble jokes, allowing the soundtrack to go wahu-wahu. This goes against the historical information that the 36th Sikhs infantry was composed of the boldest, best-trained soldiers. This film feels the need to present them as incompetent simply because one man needs to be highlighted.

Watch Kesari trailer here:

Also read: Priyanka Chopra, Jimmy Fallon and ‘Thanos’ Josh Brolin send Holi wishes for fans. Check out their messages, pics

Akshay Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh, the man who led the battle, and as is the norm in an Akshay Kumar film, he takes charge. Not only does he tighten this unit of soldiers and get them to wear clean uniforms, but also sketches sundials freehand, hurls the Sikh chakram with the precision of a discus-thrower, and attaches a telescope to a gun to invent his own version of a sniper rifle. Cue the Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi theme music, because, to paraphrase a Kumar series of comedies: Singh Is Killing.

The film looks large, but doesn’t make a sufficient impact. There is an occasional moment of intrigue, like when Kumar’s disciplinarian character is mocked by his subordinates who call him “saala Angrez”, but this talk of “bloody Englishmen” only leads to a strange situation later, where Kumar lies about the orders given to his men and then says they must fight, but not fight for the British. It feels dodgy to see soldiers fighting in uniform after first denouncing it.

Akshay Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh, the man who led the battle in Kesari.

Then, Kumar goes and gets himself a non-regulation saffron turban, which serves primarily to let us pick him out quickly in crowded combat scenes. The film’s coolest aspects are the chakrams, dangerous circular weapons forming tight halos around the turbans, and some glimpses of Gatka, the Sikh martial art. Most of the action is unmemorable, sadly. There is much bloodlust and regrettably little warcraft; these soldiers mostly prevail because the invaders choose to take turns shooting.

Kumar leaps about well and does his best Sunny Deol impression — or the best he can manage from behind a distractingly fake beard. The other soldiers appear more authentic, most of them caring enough about the film to leave their hair long and actually grow their beards, but they haven’t been given as much to do besides rally behind Kumar The Unbeatable.

There is much bloodlust and regrettably little warcraft in Kesari.

We must salute the brave soldiers of the Saragarhi. This movie merely gives us 21 angry men.

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Raja Sen is a film critic. He reviews Hindi films for Hindustan Times ...view detail

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Creative License vs Historical Records: Spotting the Saffron in ‘Kesari’

While films do take creative license, the film distorts history and adds historical facts to serve political ends and demonise the Muslim community.

Creative License vs Historical Records: Spotting the Saffron in ‘Kesari’

Akshay Kumar in Kesari.

Nizam Pasha

There is a growing tendency, both in academic literature as well as in popular culture, to distort history and alter or add historical facts to serve political and often communal ends. More often than not, such distortions are made to demonise the Muslim community or to undermine their contribution to history and to the exercise of nation-building.

The latest in this long line of distortions of history is the film Kesari , which claims to be a historical account but irresponsibly and deliberately adds facts and a narrative that spread Islamophobia while borrowing characters and events from history.

There is no doubt or dispute that the last stand of 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment at Saragarhi in 1897 was an admirable act of valour. 21 men knowingly embraced death in the line of duty, fighting against formidable odds. The purpose of this article is not to undermine their sacrifice, merely to get some facts straight.

Also Read: Movie Review: Akshay Kumar’s ‘Kesari’ Is Yet Another Contrived Nationalist Drama

The “uprising in the North-West frontier”, as British historians call it, was a war by Indian people against British colonial rule. Saragarhi, the scene of battle in Kesari , is located in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in what is today Pakistan and was, at the time the battle took place, very much a part of undivided India.

The Orakzai and Afridi Pathans who attacked Saragarhi were inhabitants of Tirah Valley in the NWFP. They were as much Indian freedom fighters as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (better known as ‘Sarhadi Gandhi’) who adopted peaceful means to fight the British rule in the same NWFP region starting a mere 14 years after the Battle of Saragarhi. The two-nation theory that resulted in the formation of Pakistan did not find place in mainstream political discourse for another 35 years after the Afghan uprising of 1897.

In 1891, six years before this battle, the British carried out the Miranzai expedition where they occupied the Samana range in the Tirah region of the NWFP to bring the Pathan tribes under their control. As part of this expedition, they occupied the Pathan village of Saragarh and destroyed the village to build a fort, finding it a strategic position commanding a view of the landscape around it.

The British also destroyed neighbouring villages and hamlets to make Saragarhi and neighbouring forts more secure. Local recruits could not be used to attack and destroy these villages, since Pathan soldiers hired by the British were found to hold kinship above loyalty to the Crown. So, the British imported Sikh soldiers to the NWFP as they were seen as the other ‘martial race’ that could combat the dauntless Pathan warriors.

Why Sikhs were selected

British historical accounts of the period indicate that Sikhs were selected for this purpose because of the unfailing loyalty they had displayed during the mutiny of 1857, when other native soldiers rebelled against the Crown. The 36th Sikh regiment that was engaged in the Battle of Saragarhi was in fact formed after the lesson learnt during 1857 – that Sikhs were fearless soldiers who remained unfailingly loyal to the Crown.

Historian after British historian writes how Punjab became the recruiting ground for the British Indian Army after 1857 because it remained untouched by the mutiny and Sikh soldiers remained loyal to the East India Company while other native soldiers waged the ‘First War of Indian Independence’, as we now call it.

For those interested, one of the British soldiers to have written about the shrewd policy to utilise Sikhs to combat Pathan warriors was a young officer named Second Lieutenant Winston Churchill. In Churchill’s words :

The Sikh…was originally invented to combat the Pathan. His religion was designed to be diametrically opposed to Mahommedanism. It was a shrewd act of policy. Fanaticism was met by fanaticism. Religious abhorrence was added to racial hatred.

This was how soldiers of the 36th Sikh found themselves stationed at Saragarhi Fort.

kesari movie information

Soldiers of the Sikh regiment. Credit: Public domain

Distortions in the film

In 1897, the Pathans of the Orakzai and Afridi tribes joined forces to chase the British out of their homelands. This is how the battle of Saragarhi came about, as much a freedom struggle by Indians against British Rule as the Revolt of 1857 itself.

Kesari adds a fictional sequence in the beginning of the film, where Havaldar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) rescues an Afghan girl from a Mullah who wants to behead her for violating the supposed duties of a wife to her husband supposedly mandated by shariat . The film shows that the Pathan attack on Saragarhi was a reprisal against this interference by Ishar Singh in the Pathan tribe’s internal affairs.

In fact, in the film, the battle begins with the said Mullah, now riding ahead of the Pathan Lashkar, dragging the same girl to the Fort of Saragarhi and beheading her in front of Ishar Singh’s eyes to show him what he and his men are being punished for. Both scenes have the Mullah reciting Surah-e-Fatiha, the first verse of the Quran which is recited five times a day by practicing Muslims as part of namaz, to associate this barbarism with Quranic injunction. The verse, an uncontroversial one, which seeks guidance of Allah and prays to Him to show us the way, is as misplaced in the scene as the Gurbani would be in a slaughterhouse, but is added anyhow on the (I must admit well-founded) premise that the audience would not know better.

Contrary to any historical record, Ishar Singh then lies to the garrison stationed at Fort Saragarhi and tells them that the British commanding officer has asked them to abandon the fort and retreat. He later tells a jawan that he did this so that the soldiers choose to stay to fight to the death not on account of orders of a colonial master, but as free men.

Not content with depriving the Pathans of their rightful status as freedom fighters, words and phrases such as azaadi , apni mitti and qaum are sprinkled liberally in the dialogues of the Sikh soldiers from here on, so that the narrative is actually reversed with the British colonial army adopting the language of freedom as they fight native warriors while irony dies a thousand deaths.

Also Read: Hindutva’s Desperate Attempt to Use Bhagat Singh Against Love

The bare boned facts of the actual battle sans jingoism were these – outnumbering the enemy, the Pathans repeatedly offered safe passage to the besieged Sikh soldiers of the British Army manning the fort, but the proud Sikhs bravely chose to fight to the finish. The Pathans, armed with jezails (handmade gunpowder based rifles) and swords threw themselves at the fort against the superior fire power of the enemy.

The soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment, with the advantage of altitude and the safety offered by the fort walls, fired relentlessly at them with their Martini-Henry breech loading rifles, among the most modern guns of that time, capable of firing 20 rounds per minute.

Around 180-200 Pathans lost their lives and yet, more surged forward. Two Pathans, braving enemy fire, managed to reach the fort walls and dug down to the foundation of the wall with their bare hands till the wall, foundation removed, collapsed under its own weight. The fort breached, the Pathans stormed the fort and slaughtered the Sikh soldiers who had claimed so many of their kinsmen. The 21 gallant Sikh soldiers died fighting to the last.

kesari movie information

Saragarhi memorial gurudwara, built in 1904. Credit: By RameshSharma1 CC BY 2.0

Creative liberty and historical records

Dead men tell no tales and since none of the Sikh soldiers survived, it’s only natural that creative liberty will have to be taken to fill in details of how the battle occurred. However, the film goes contrary even to records that do exist, such as the diary maintained by Lt Colonel John Haughton, the commanding officer of the 36th Sikh, which was reproduced in his memoir written by Major A.C. Yates in 1900.

Facts are altered to glorify the narrative, falsifying it further in the process. For instance, the offer of safe passage by the Pathans to the Sikhs is shown as a ruse to get two Pathans to the fort walls, which is contrary to the record. Then there is no record of use of dynamite by the Pathans as the film depicts; the wall of the Saragarhi Fort was in fact breached by the two Pathans digging under the wall with their bare hands. These diggers were clearly visible from Fort Gulistan, which tried to signal to Saragarhi, but in vain, and this fact finds mention in Haughton’s diary.

The last survivor, Gurmukh Singh, after valiantly shooting down to his last round from the signalling tower, is reported to have shot himself. In the film, a burning Gurmukh emerges from the tower, grabs Gul Badshah, the leader of the Orakzais, and sets fire to his gunpowder reserve, killing him. Gul Badshah was in fact, not killed in the battle. Nor was Mullah Hadda, the cleric who, according to historical record, is supposed to have given the call for jehad against the British in the Tirah valley. In the film, he is stabbed to death by Akshay Kumar’s character.

Which brings us to jehad, that forbidden word of our age. The word is slipped in neatly in the opening introduction, spouted by the evil, woman-beheading Mullah. In a moment of rather unusual candour, he admits to the jirga or tribal council that a call to jehad is his weapon, a tool employed by him for his own purposes. The rhetoric of Islamophobia is now complete.

Lest we forget, the revolt of 1857 was led by Muslim ulema (clerics) who gave a call for jehad against the British rule, and paid for it with their blood. It is said that there was not a single tree on the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Calcutta on which an alim ‘s (singular of ulema) body was not found hanging after the revolt was quelled.

We must bear in mind that every army fought in the name of their god, which was reflected in their war cries such as “ Har har Mahadev ” and “ Jai Bhawani ” of the Marathas and “ Bole so nihal, sat Sri Akal ” of the Sikhs. To this day, regiments of the Indian army go into battle with these and other religious war cries. I suppose it helps a soldier facing death to believe that a better life awaits him in another world as reward for his sacrifice.

Why is this film a concern?

So why is this film a cause for concern? It is after all, just a film. Films are meant to entertain, nothing more. It is an exercise by the makers of the film of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

The film is worrisome because it spreads Islamophobia. It creates a false context to a historical battle to tell a story in which the Muslim is the ‘other’. It creates a narrative that further alienates Muslims and incites ill will against Islam. Since inciting ill will against a community is an offence under the Indian Penal Code, this would fall under the restriction to the freedom of expression on the grounds of ‘public order’.

I would argue that such a narrative that alienates one community also undermines the integrity of India, another ground for restriction on free speech. It is also a violation of the rights of the Muslim people to equality, as it adds to communal hatred which then results in discrimination against them.

And lastly, when a film purports to depict history, there is an obligation to report correct facts, so far as known from historical record. Kesari is supposed to have made close to Rs 200 crore in revenue. That means that nearly one crore citizens have watched this film in theatres, and crores will watch it still for years on TV. Films touch a larger number of people and leave a more lasting impression than any history book. From here on, in popular imagination, this will be the history of the Battle of Saragarhi. The freedom struggle of the Pathans will be lost forever and they will be seen as treacherous barbarians fighting to uphold bigotry and misogyny, supposedly inspired by Islam.

I think the time has come for our courts to carve out a right against distortions of history from the right to information and the right to education, particularly of future generations, who will grow up believing these canards to be historical facts.

It cannot be that Akbar wins or loses the Battle of Haldi Ghati depending on who wins the elections, 450 years after the battle. The Central Board of Film Certification (or “Censor Board”, as it is popularly known) must be charged with a responsibility to ensure that films claiming to be based on historical events or employing historical characters must remain true to historical accounts and must not give the story a political or communal colour while filling in the details.

Even if facts are not proactively distorted, as in the case of Kesari , history changes depending on the perspective from which it is told. What perspective we choose reveals our politics. Why is it that there is no Indian film in which the Revolt of 1857 aka First War of Indian Independence is shown from the British perspective?

Here’s what it would sound like:

The revolt of 1857 was a treacherous act of mutiny by ingrate native soldiers who bit that hand that fed them, literally stabbing their rightful colonial masters in the back in the name of jehad, gau rakhsha and other such superstitious beliefs. For days, mayhem reigned. British officers were brutally killed, their women raped and their children murdered. Finally, an army of brave Englishmen aided by loyal native soldiers of the Empire fought off the mutineers and restored the rule of Her Majesty, Queen of England and Empress of Hindoostan. God save the Queen.

If we do not sponsor such narratives, then we must ask ourselves why we readily subscribe to the Islamophobic narrative of films like Kesari , why in fact we flock to watch such films in droves. In the answer lies the key to understanding the hate crimes and bigotry plaguing our country today.

Nizam Pasha is a lawyer practicing in Delhi. He got a B+ in the History course he studied as part of his BA LLB. His expertise in the subject can be gauged accordingly. Also, two of his best friends are Sikhs. All bigots agree that that sort of thing disqualifies people from communal bias. He can be reached on Twitter @MNizamPasha .

References (because history is not an act of fiction writing and must cite sources):

  • Colonel Kanwaljit Singh, Major H.S. Ahluwalia, Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory , Lancer International, New Delhi, 1987.
  • Gordon Corrigon, Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-15 , The History Press, 1999.
  • Jay Singh-Sohal, Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle , Dot Hyphen Publications, Birmingham, 2013.
  • Major A.C. Yates, Lieutenant-Colonel John Haughton, Commandant of the 36th Sikhs, A Hero of Tirah, A Memoir , John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1900.
  • Winston Churchill, The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War , Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., London, Edinburgh and New York, 1898.

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Movie Review: Kesari


Kesari Devesh Sharma, December 4, 2019

  • Kesari Movie Review
  • Times Of India

critic's rating:  3.5/5 Kesari is a fictionalised account of the legendary Battle Of Saragarhi where 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment stood out the wrath of ten thousand Afghan tribals on 12 September 1897 and didn't let them conquer the Saragarhi fort till the evening. The original plan of the tribals was to capture the nearby forts, Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan as well on the same day. The sacrifice by the 21 bravehearts delayed their plans and those two forts didn't get captured. The film has a one-line plot. Director Anurag Singh were faced with the daunting task of lining it up with enough elements to engage the viewers for close to three hours. Instead of filling the frames with just mindless action, the director chose to provide an emotional core to the film. Hence, humanitarian values as preached by Guru Granth Sahib get juxtaposed with the age old precepts of bravery, valour and dying for one's cause, which are the founding principles of Sikhism. Havildar Ishar Singh (Akshay Kumar) not only helps an Afghan woman from being beheaded, he also orders his troops to help repair the mosque of the nearby village, stating that helping those in need is the warrior's first credo. Given the context of the Babri Masjid riots and its aftermath, this plot point is a brave, much needed statement. Ishar orders his cook to serve water even to the fallen enemy, accentuating the belief that one's foes should also be treated humanely. There isn't a jingoistic element in the film. Instead, the soldiers are shown to be stranded away from their loved ones, fighting an enemy not of their own choosing. They are turned into freedom fighters by the narrative, willing to die for their own pride in being Sikh warriors and not because of any fealty to the British Empire. The desolation of the soldiers is shown through the example of Ishar Singh who keep getting hallucinations about his wife (Parineeti Chopra). There is a mention about caste divide as well, and thankfully the way it is presented doesn't make it stick out. But this isn't just a humanitarian drama but also an action film. And it's here that the film turns all loud and over the top. The hugely outnumbered soldiers die valiant deaths, one after the other, with each sacrifice becoming more gruesome than the one preceding it. Ishar Singh becomes a berserker in the end, killing Afghans left, right and centre with his sword, his chakra, stones, even his bare hands, winning the grudging respect of the enemy. The last soldier, a rookie, sets himself on fire and jumps on the gathered horde, blasting quite a number of them, thanks to the dynamite he was carrying. Akshay Kumar is verily the soul of the film. His bearing, his mannerisms are totally that of a professional soldier. The way he goes about winning over the men of his command post and later rallies their morale all feels heroic to the extreme. His sincerity oozes through in those scenes. The rest of the cast, consisting of actors hailing from the Punjabi industry, too make you feel you're watching a band of brothers. Having a no-name cast supporting the lead was a risk which has paid off as they become synonymous with the unknown brave souls of long ago, who died fighting in one of the most gallant battles ever fought...

Trailer : Kesari

Rachit gupta, march 20, 2019, 5:07 pm ist.

Kesari Story: A retelling of the Battle of Saragarhi where 21 Sikh soldiers fought against an Afghan army of 10000 men in the year 1897. Kesari Review: The Battle of Saragarhi is considered to be one of the most inspiring stories of human valour and bravery, not just in India, but the world over. Director Anurag Singh’s film Kesari is a fitting tribute to this story of Sikh soldiers. It’s a compelling war drama that combines strong emotions with blood-soaked action and retells an important chapter from the annals of Indian history. The film’s best moments are fuelled by a towering performance by Akshay Kumar. Kesari is a powerful film because it has an innate sense of emotional intelligence and raw shock value, too. It showcases the atrocity of war and violence unabashedly, always condemning the bloodshed at hand and forever celebrating the bravery of men. It’s not just an action film, it’s a war drama that spends time in establishing its main characters and gives the audience a detailed and authentic look at a story of true patriotism. The film is beautifully shot by Anshul Chobey and the production design Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray is equally important in making the dry and dusty setting of North-West province (now in Khyber, Pakistan) look authentic. Here’s where the CGI also makes a big contribution in making the snow-capped backdrop of the place look pitch perfect. The editing, sound design and action choreography in Kesari are all top-notch. The inclusion of Gatka, the Sikh martial art is a fine moment, too. Even the costumes by Sheetal Sharma add to the intricate details. Anurag Singh’s entire technical team deserves a standing ovation for this film. You can’t craft a solid film without good writing and that’s where the efforts of Girish Kohli and Anurag Singh shine through as well. The writers have seamlessly woven in moments of high drama, humour, wit, sarcasm, tragedy and action into the narrative. The best part is, there’s also a lot of historical wisdom as the film keeps referencing Sikh and Islamic legends. At one point, the chief antagonist declares wars on the British and Sikh soldiers inciting jihad and his fellow leader reminds him that Islam does not propagate violence in the first place. Such is the detailed writing that every character in the film has an emotional point that helps the audience identify with them. At forefront of all the action though is the central character of Havildar Ishar Singh. The last time a Sardar was as fierce and awe-inspiring was in Gadar. Ishar Singh is as much Anurag Singh’s character as it is Akshay’s and he’s the embodiment of true Sikh values and pride. His nobility is a match for his bravery and to watch him command the emotions and gusto in Kesari is pure joy. This is what cinematic heroes should be like and Akshay Kumar does complete justice to the role. Parineeti Chopra gets a small but impactful role, and it’s her character’s fun banter with Akshay that puts a smile on your face and her tears break your heart. Rakesh Chaturvedi Om as the Afghan leader is very convincing with his radicalism, too. With technical brilliance, intricate writing and thundering performances, Kesari is a loud war cry that evokes strong feelings of patriotism and it also wrenches your heart with its climactic tragedy. The visceral power of its visuals and emotions is staggering.

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The real story of Kesari: when 21 Sikh soldiers fought 10,000 Afghan warriors at the Battle of Saragarhi

By Condé Nast Traveller


They call the Battle of Saragarhi one of the greatest last stands in military history: 21 Sikh soldiers held fort against more than 10,000 rampaging tribesmen for over six hours. Nearly 120 years after it happened, the story of the battle of Saragarhi is finally going out to the world. After the Netflix series 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897 , the story will be retold through Kesari, the film in which Akshay Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh. Till you get to the series or the film, here's a recap of what really went down on that day in 1897.

Where is Saragarhi?

Back in the 19th Century, Saragarhi was a tiny, nondescript village in what was then the North-West Frontier Province. Today, it stands a few hours outside Peshawar near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The real story of Kesari when 21 Sikh soldiers fought 10000 Afghan warriors at the Battle of Saragarhi

Who fought the Battle of Saragarhi?

The epic Battle of Saragarhi was fought between 21 soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army and over 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen. The battle took place nearly two decades after the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The British Army, trying to gain control of the hilly Central Asian provinces, was in a long-standing conflict with local tribes and clans. Many battles were fought, with hundreds of Indian foot-soldiers martyred towards the British cause.

What happened in the Battle of Saragarhi?

Fort Gulistan and Fort Lockhart in Afghanistan were two fortresses under British control at the time. The forts would communicate with each other by using mirrors to flash Morse Coded messages. But the distance between them was quite a bit, and so, Saragarhi was set up as a signalling station--to relay messages from one end to the other. 21 soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment were deputed to guard this post.

The ruins of Saragarhi. Source Australian Sikh Heritage

The ruins of Saragarhi. Source: Australian Sikh Heritage

September 1897. There are reports of an impending attack on the forts by local Afghan clans. Everyone is on guard. On the morning of 12 September, a sentry at Saragarhi sees a dust cloud rise in the distance. Signalman Gurmukh Singh flashes the message to the two forts. Word comes back: the tribes are coming. 10,000, maybe 14,000. "Need reinforcements," Saragarhi flashes the message through their mirrors. "Unable to break through. Hold fort," comes the response.

And so they do, over the next six hours, the 21 Sikh soldiers led by Havildar Ishar Singh fight off wave after wave of the Afghan warriors. With their 0.303 calibre single-loading rifles, they take aim: every shot is fatal. Stunned by the casualties, the Afghan forces recoil and try to buy peace: they offer the soldiers riches and a safe passage. But the principled Khalsa warriors refuse. And the battle rages on.

Now, the tribes try another tact: they try to smoke the soldiers out by setting the shrubs nearby on fire. That doesn't work, but the tribesmen manage to breach the post. And yet, Havildar Ishar Singh and his men hold on.  Low on ammunition, Saragarhi again ask the British command for help. None arrives.

The burnt remains of Saragarhi. Photo Australian Sikh Heritage

The burnt remains of Saragarhi. Photo: Australian Sikh Heritage

Ishar Singh orders his men to fall back to secure the last line of defence. He himself holds on, with his pistol and sword. He fights one warrior after another. The Sikh casualties are mounting. It's now down to the last few men. Even with his life at risk, Signalman Gurmukh Singh flashes a message to his superiors, seeking permission to swap the mirrors for a gun. And then, with a shout of "Jo Bole Sau Nihal, Sat Sri Akal," the 19-year-old soldier joins the battle. One after the other, the brave Sikh slashes the invaders, killing nearly 20 of them. Unable to get the last of them, the tribesmen set the fort on fire.

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Here's an excellent 8-minute recap of what happened on the day:

So who won the Battle of Saragarhi?

The 21 Sikh soldiers killed between 180-600 Afghan tribesmen. Eventually, each of the soldiers succumbed, but they had fought through the day, giving Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan enough time to prepare. They had also inflicted heavy losses on the invading forces. Saragarhi fell, but was soon recaptured by the British forces.

The real story of Kesari

Akshay Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh in the film Kesari. Set to release on 21 March, it tells the story of this epic Battle of Saragarhi. Here's a trailer:

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Kesari videos, kesari   photos.

A Sikh warrior participates in the Battle of Saragarhi.

Genre: Action, History, Drama

Original Language: Hindi

Director: Anurag Singh

Producer: Karan Johar , Sunir Kheterpal , Akshay Kumar , Apoorva Mehta

Writer: Girish Kohli , Anurag Singh

Release Date (Theaters): Mar 21, 2019  limited

Release Date (Streaming): May 18, 2019

Box Office (Gross USA): $1.8M

Runtime: 2h 30m

Production Co: Dharma Productions

Cast & Crew

Akshay Kumar

Havildar Ishar Singh

Parineeti Chopra

Edward Sonnenblick

Lt. Lawrence

R. Bhakti Klein

Major Des Voeux

Mark Bennington

John Haughton

Toranj Kayvon

Rimple Dhindsa

Sepoy Ram Singh

Vikram Kochhar

Gilab Singh

Bhawani Muzamil

Anurag Singh

Girish Kohli


Karan Johar

Sunir Kheterpal

Apoorva Mehta

Anshul Chobey


Manish More

Film Editing

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