Written by Manisha Lakhe on March 21, 2019
They Took A Historic Battle,
Turned It Into An Election Time Propaganda Film.
The final battle to the death is worth the watch, but when you see religion, patriotism, propaganda and soldiering mix in a movie timed for release during elections in India, you want to cringe but that would be politically incorrect. But honestly, the first hour and a half they need to set up the film is as dull and dry as the setting of the film.
The film is set in forts in the dry and dusty land on the border of Afghanistan. The film is almost 156 minutes long and only the last 20 minutes of the battle make you feel anything if at all.
But when I got back home after the screening, I checked the net, and guess what, this simple history lesson made tears flow. The film loses out so much!
Barring the last battle where you have only one hero, the rest of the film is a painful setting up of main character. We get to know of sardar Ishar Singh who is hotheaded and his first skirmish with Pathans when he saves an Afghan woman from her nasty husband and hoards of men ready to kill her, his argument with his superior officer (the trope of the rebel hero is so badly done, you see everything before it strikes the characters in the movie), his becoming a leader to the 21 lackadaisical Sikh lads inspiring them to become soldiers…
If you haven’t groaned enough, there is a horrible Muslim cleric who wants to behead the Afghan woman and bring the Sikh soldiers, especially Ishar Singh to his knees, remove the turban (which the Sikhs consider as holy and as a sign of pride) and hence insult them. There is a British officer who expects Ishar Singh to salute him, humiliates him by calling him ‘fucker’ and also insults his pride by saying that India’s soil only produces cowards in halting Hindi (delivered with deliberation, to show that he’s making an effort to be slow, because Hindi is ‘foreign language’). And yes, the Sikh soldiers are also super tropes: a soldier who misses his child and keeps reading a letter with the child’s palm print, a soldier who is a teenager, a soldier who does not smile and is stern, a soldier who polishes shoes and puts them away because those shoes are for his dad, a soldier who was called away at his wedding and is teased because he’s a virgin. The Afghan Pathans are tropes too: they are cruel and savage hoards, they yell when they attack, and yes, among them is an obviously gay character (who just seems to have been added because…) who wears henna has painted fingernails, makes these weird ‘come hither’ eye movements and carries a blunderbuss, killing from a hiding place…
If that isn’t ridiculous, it is the moments during a raging battle that leave you saying, ‘Why are you wasting time?’
The final battle is brave, very brave. And it’s a true story of a battle at Saragarhi where 21 soldiers fought over 10,000 marauding Pashtun hoards. But in the film they bring the battle to a halt showing how the soldiers cared for each other: says one dying soldier, ‘My mother will be alone, now!’ another tries to make the stern soldier who’s dying, laugh for one last time. There are no more bullets left so the soldiers use the gun as a stick…
The emotional scenes are so stretched, you want to intervene and say, ‘Hey! Don’t forget the enemies are baying for your blood! Get on with the dying!’
And you don’t want to ask how the heck did Ishar Singh get time to change his khaki uniformed turban wear the saffron pagdi right before battle… You have stopped caring.
Akshay Kumar plays the hero Ishar Singh, and credit must be given to him for carrying the film single handed. He spouts all the patriotic lines rather convincingly and fights rather well. But it moves only the easily persuaded people who attach national pride to everything these days. One has seen many war films that move one to tears. This film is too agenda-driven, too jingoistic to touch any real chord.
(as one twitter person was quick to point out, that blogger color is saffron too, and i should change it because of the review. remember, they made people wear the star of david on their arm once… so am not about to prove my love for my country by doing anything for anyone…)
(sans the you tube link, the review appears on nowrunning dot com)