The trailer that has been making those internet rounds faster than a merry-go-round: “Kesari” has created quite the whirlwind! Within just two hours of release, the trailer had acquired more than 20 million views on YouTube in 24 hours. This first look went viral and #kesaritrailer was trending within the snap of a finger on February 20.
It’s a tale of 21 standing against 10,000, and a saga of strength overcoming fear. The Battle of Saragarhi, the historical epitome of Sikh pride, is the subject of Akshay Kumar’s latest Bollywood movie. “Kesari” stars Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, and Vansh Bhardwaj. It is directed by Anurag Singh who is well known as a Punjabi film director with previous hits like “Jatt” and “Juliet in Pollywood.” The film has already received an overwhelmingly loving response from fans worldwide who are impatiently awaiting its release.
Although “Kesari” sounds like the stuff of myths and legends, it is the real-life story of Sikhs within the 36th battalion of the British Indian army. The British depicted Sikhs as a martial race alongside Scottish Highlanders and Gurkhas (Streets, 2004). In fact, Sikhs were exalted officers within the British Indian army who generally received better treatment than other Indians. The British looked towards the Sikhs fondly, often portraying them as loyal subjects.
Much of this predated the Battle of Saragarhi and followed the events of the First War of Indian Independence / Indian Mutiny of 1857. By calling on the Sikh and Gurkha regiments, the British secured a victory against large components of the British Indian army that had rebelled in Meerut, Delhi, Oudh, and other parts of India. From this point forward, British lauded Sikhs for their bravery, courage, masculinity, and militant competency. Tales of their strength and valour were heard through the vast expanse of Britannia’s terrain.
In turn, this treatment meant that loyalty was reinforced and re-engrained within the minds of Sikh officers, many of whom acted as proud defendants of the British Raj. Nonetheless, if any British officials still had their doubts about Sikh warriors, then the Battle of Saragarhi worked to eradicate those qualms.
Sikhs were posted at various forts in Afghanistan on the Northwestern frontier of British India in 1897 with a post at Saragarhi, which acted as an important communication point between the forts. The Afghani Pashtuns had been agitating for some time but several of their attempts had failed. Nonetheless, amid this uprising, 10,000 Afghans were set to attack Saragarhi.
The Sikh regiment posted at this location had asked for reinforcements from the British fort nearby but received news that they would not be able to reach in time. The soldiers prepared to defend the post. Havildar Ishar Singh refused to compromise with the Afghans, despite their bid to back down if the Sikhs relented. Although heavily outnumbered, on September 12, 1897, the Sikh soldiers faced the Afghans with the utmost valour. The battle lasted from day till night.
The Sikh regiment fought until death with the last remaining Sikh soldier reciting the Sikh words “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh” until his last breath (Lunt, 1977). This battle took hold of the British imagination after this point as the events were closely relayed to officials by heliograph as they unfolded.
Saragarhi is often remembered as an example of Sikh loyalty and prowess, but the “Kesari” first look suggests the film may present a new take on this commonly recollected narrative. “Kesari” could be one of the first films to address the sociocultural and/or racial dynamics that may have played out among the Sikh regiments, ones that have been interpreted as deeply-embedded loyalty for the British. However, we cannot say for sure until we see the film!
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Regardless of the question of British fondness, Akshay Kumar’s depiction as Havildar Ishar Singh shows Sikh valour in all its glory. As a religion born under the leadership of the tenth Sikh Guru to protect the helpless and defend those in need, the military history of Sikh bravery and courage precedes the establishment of British embellished racial and religious divisions within India. Opening with the Mool Mantra, the trailer encapsulates the spiritual essence of Sikhism alongside powerful symbols and displays of military prowess.
On a lighter note, the “Kesari” preview has already inspired a proliferation of memes based on Akshay Kumar’s dialogue “Chal Jhoota.” Check out just a few “Kesari” fan tweets and hilarious memes:
— em. (@lordinexile) February 21, 2019
— Karan Talwar (@BollywoodGandu) February 21, 2019
The meme regeneration has even enthused the Nagpur and Jaipur police to participate in the fun.
— Nagpur City Police (@NagpurPolice) February 22, 2019
“Kesari” is set for a Holi release on March 21, and we can’t wait to see how it holds up to its epic trailer.