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“I am honored and humbled to portray Havaldar Ishar Singh. He had an important role in the history of India. I’m lucky to have the privilege of portraying this incredible Sikh in my lifetime.” The Khiladi (player) of Bollywood, Akshay Kumar, continues his affair with social and realistic dramas with his latest offering, Kesari. He also returns to action with his first war drama. Wearing the pagadi (head gear) gave him a sense of pride and responsibility.

Never heard of Havaldar Ishar Singh? Or the Battle of Saragarhi? “It was a battle that was truly forgotten, if not erased from our history,” says Akshay. “The story of the bravest battle ever fought in history. It depicts the bravery, values and valiance of the Sikh regiment.” Havaldar Ishar Singh led the British Indian contingency of 21 Sikh Soldiers to protect the army post at Sargarhi. The Battle of Saragarhi was fought against 10,000-12,000 Afghani invaders in 18th century India.

Despite being a pro in action, the 51-year-old actor admits it was quite challenging to shoot the movie. “I shot with my heavy turban in unbearable weather conditions, in Mumbai heat and the low altitude of Spiti. It was a grueling schedule, with a lot of intense action sequences as it had to look real. In the end, watching the film and the scenic locations, it was so worth it.”

About director Anurag Singh, who moved successfully from Punjabi to Hindi cinema (Kesari is his second), Akshay says, “He has amazing clarity in what he wants and is relentless in achieving it, no matter what. And he has a pure heart. He stayed true to the story and is one of the best directors I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

As a superstar and actor, Akshay’s journey has been admirable. He started with passable acting skills, but has been learning and staying admirably true to his craft. He has also succeeded in staying relevant and balanced stardom with creativity quite easily. Akshay strived to pick fresh subjects throughout his career, moving from action to comedy to romance and in recent years, to the real-life genre. Last year, the actor had three releases, the brave sanitary napkin tale Pad Man, the sports chapter Gold and the villainous venture with Rajnikanth 2.0.

With Kesari, he forays into the war genre to a story that needs to be heard and experienced for all its wonders. “I genuinely feel the audience will connect with every scene and character. This film is extremely special and close to my heart. I’m very emotional about it — it’s my dedication to all the martyrs back then and even now who keep fighting for our country, our Bharat Ke Veer,” he says.

Looking back at his own career spanning just over 27 years, Akshay says, “I think I’ve done well enough to make my parents proud. They believed in me when I wanted to concentrate on sports, then in martial arts and eventually movies. At every step, they encouraged me and my sole aim was to show them they were right in doing so. Today, when I look back, I can say I didn’t let them down.”

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by India Currents Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

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