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21 SARFAROSH : SARAGARHI 1897 (Discovery/Netflix Series), more lesser known facts about the unique battle and Bollywood’s craze for the epic reminding you of multiple films made on the life of SHAHEED BHAGAT SINGH - By Bobby Sing

20 Mar, 2019 | ALL ABOUT INSPIRED MOVIES / Inspired Movies (Alphabetical) / S / Movie Reviews / 2019 Releases / Articles on Cinema

Sharing this eye-opener article, let me begin with not one but two rare things about the Battle of Saragarhi which is thankfully now known to the people of our country due to the Bollywood filmmakers' latest obsession with the event, reminding us of those multiple films made on the life of Shaheed Bhagat Singh at the same time.
The first rare fact about the clash is that it’s one of the rarest, bravest and the most unbelievable battles of the globe between just 21 Sikh Soldiers and around 10 thousand Afghani tribesmen attacking them to capture the Saragarhi fort.
And the second rare fact about the battle is that where it is widely famous among the world historians since the last century (also reportedly taught in schools in France and included in the book on bravery published by UNESCO), the unique battle was not a known chapter of history to our own country and its people till the last century quite strangely.
In other words, call it our casual approach towards history, our sheer negligence, lack of will in the Sikh leadership (in particular) or a big conspiracy, the truth is that very few people in India and even in Sikh community knew the details of this amazing, epic war, since it was not a part of our History curriculum at school levels in the last century.
But before moving further, would like to brief you about the event and its background giving you a fair idea.
The British forces deployed the 36th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment at The Saragarhi fort (situated on a rocky ridge close to the border of Kohat on the Samana Range, now in Pakistan) to stop Afghan tribesmen willing to capture it in August 1897. The Saragarhi fort was specially set up as a station to signal or relay visual messages (through sunlight) between the other two important forts under the British control, Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan in the same region.
On September 12, the fort guarded by 21 Sikh Soldiers under the leadership of Havaldaar Ishar Singh was attacked by 10-12000 tribesmen. The Afghanis who took it as an easy target were proved wrong by just 21 soldiers fighting with their limited ammunition from a fort that was also not so strong in construction and built. There were repeated attacks from the tribesmen coming in such a huge number with guns, arrows, cannons and other weapons, but still the battalion of 21 Sikhs kept defending the fort for over 7-8 hours very well knowing that this is a battle not to be won by any chance.
Finally the attackers led by their Chief Gul Badshah managed to breach the walls of the fort but were still given a long fight before all the 21 Sikh Soldiers died killing hundreds of tribesmen (more than 600). They couldn’t win the battle but got enough time for Fort Lockhart and Gulistan to prepare for the further attacks. Later the Saragarhi fort too was recaptured by the British forces after a couple of days. 
The Battle of Saragarhi could have also got lost in the several unrecorded events of that particular time period if one of the 21 Sikhs - Gurmukh Singh had not signaled the proceedings back to Fort Lockhart by the means of Heliograph (a wireless telegraph device that sends signals by flashes of sunlight through the reflection of a mirror). So that is the reason these details are said to be fairly accurate as included in the British history of those times.
Considered as one of the greatest last-stands in the world history, every single Sikh soldier of Saragarhi was later awarded the highest gallantry awards by the British for their acts of valour (equivalent to Param Vir Chakra), which was also the first case of its kind in the history. And then September 12 was declared as a holiday for the regiment for all Sikh soldiers, which is celebrated till date by the forces. 
So if you got really surprised and fascinated watching the English film 300, then this will be even more surprising and unbelievable for you without any slightest of doubt. Besides, there is something else that will be equally amazing related with how the event was remembered in India by the countrymen including the Sikhs themselves.
How we remembered the event before and after 2000. 
Widely mentioned and respectfully applauded all over the globe as one of five greatest battles ever fought on the planet, ironically I never heard about it in our school days, as it was not the part of our history syllabus, even when it was a school under Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. In fact it was not the part of history books in Punjab schools too (till 2000) for reasons unknown and never given.
But later while studying Punjabi literature in my post-graduation days in the mid '90s, when I met and started discussing various subjects with my learned professors, I came to know about the battle and then always tried to inform others with great enthusiasm facing an utter rejection, because almost everyone simply refused believing, taking it as a well-written fictional account. Though a few well-read people did know about the unique fight, but a big majority including the young and the old were not aware of it at all and were not ready to believe in it too without any solid proof.
Luckily things started changing post the huge success of film BORDER in 1997 (with a Sikh Army officer in charge played by Sunny Deol) and the thought process of viewers as well as filmmakers got diverted towards all similar instances in our wars with the neighboring countries. And it was in these years, when while studying about the past, many researchers, keen readers and writers got to know about the not so publicized Battle of Saragarhi, feeling literally amazed.
However the scenario got through a drastic change post the internet revolution in the new millennium as this was no more a hard to believe fictional account of a war but a well recorded part of our history before independence, when Indians used to fight participating and representing the British army. 
Within this time period, I also got informed that there has been a constant demand made by the Sikh Regiment and other Ex-Officers Associations to include The Battle in the school curriculum proudly informing the youngsters about the past. A report in The Tribune newspaper (Punjab) said that a request has also been made to the state and central political leaders for the same as very little was known about this ‘must know exemplary battle’ that should be essentially taught to the young students in schools. 
As a result of such efforts made, post 2000 a chapter on the battle was readily included in the history books of higher classes in schools under Punjab School Education Board which was duly announced in a public rally by the Chief Minister. At present probably it’s included in the curriculum of schools run by Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee too following the same instructions.
When I suggested the subject to some producers of Punjabi Cinema.
Post the success of JATT & JULIET and CARRY ON JATTA in 2012-13, when Punjabi Cinema got back on the path of revival, I suggested the subject to a producer and you will not believe the response I got from him as a refusal. And he said, 
“BORDER tasted success as it was a story of A WIN. But here in Battle of Saragarhi, they didn’t win but lost their fort to the attackers and no one will be interested in watching a losing battle”
Listening the answer I got hugely disappointed and came back saying this one line to him, which he might recall in the present. And I said,
“Sir, at times, Cinema works best when the hero loses it all with pride, instead of winning it all as a routine”
Anyway the meeting didn’t work and after a few years I heard more than one known Bollywood filmmakers finding it worth trying together, repeating the same mess we earlier witnessed as multiple bio-pics made on the life of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
More than one Hindi film projects on the same BATTLE made by all renowned filmmakers.
The first news we got about not one but two films being made on the same subject of BATTLE OF SARAGARHI was in mid-2016 with both Ajay Devgn and Rajkumar Santoshi annoucing their individual projects.
Here though Ajay’s THE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH (2002) was directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi only, but instead of coming up with a film together they both announced two different films for reasons best known to them.
So in mid-2016 where at one end Ajay Devgn announced his film tentatively titled SONS OF SARDAAR - THE BATTLE OF SARAGARHI, Raj Kumar Santoshi and Randeep Hooda announced their distinctive film based on the same subject also featuring Danny Denzongpa.
Next, within a year there was news of Ajay Devgn’s project not commencing ahead from the writing stage, whereas Randeep Hooda left all other work growing his beard and hair for the role of Havaldaar Ishar Singh. A few pictures of other Sikh actors featuring in it also got circulated on the social networks which truly looked original and exciting.
However unexpectedly this film of Raj Kumar Santoshi too got stuck after some time due to financial constraints as reported and work stopped for a while in the year 2017.
Now at this very time we suddenly got the news of Karan Johar also producing a film on BATTLE OF SARAGARHI titled KESARI (around October 2017) with Akshay Kumar in lead, directed by Anurag Singh, who is a renowned director of Punjabi cinema and the director of National Award winning PUNJAB 1984.
Here sharing my personal viewpoint, to which you might agree or not, I couldn’t understand the ethical working of Hindi film industry and its key names very honestly. 
To be straight, here we had a film of a veteran and the immensely talented director Raj Kumar Santoshi lying stuck mid-way due to financial issues. But instead of supporting it offering a takeover or partnership Karan Johar starts his own film on the same very subject without any shame or regret just to encash the ongoing wave of nationalism like a true opportunist.
Giving a benefit of doubt, it’s quite possible that Karan had offered but didn’t find any favourable response from the producers of Santoshi’s film agreeing to his terms and conditions. But even then, starting his own film on the same subject with a bigger name was nothing less than CRUEL and UNETHICAL as far as my opinion is concerned, with which you are free to disagree for your own reasons.
But wait, as I was personally thinking that Karan played an ugly game grabbing the opportunity well in time, there came another shock, when suddenly in the beginning of 2018, we saw Discovery launching its JEET Channel with a 65 episode long series titled 21 SARFAROSH: Saragarhi 1897 starring Mohit Raina, Mukul Devand more (reviewed in details ahead).
21 SARFAROSH: Saragarhi 1897 (Review By Bobby Sing)
21-Saragarhi-Discovery-Netflix-SeriesAs a television series showcasing the events around Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, 21 SARFAROSH is certainly a well-made and worth applauding Indian historical series recreating the epic fight with the right spirit, execution and performances. 
Produced by Contiloe Entertainment and directed by Raj Acharya, the series never makes you feel watching something less than a full-fledged film and for that the credit goes to the entire team including the writer, director, cinematographer, art-director, background score composer and above all the performers giving their best without holding back in any way (considering the format) 
Listing the merits first, 21 SARFAROSH’s biggest praise is that it doesn’t play the religion card at all even in its long 65 episodes. So you are not going to see any KESARI colour or Sikh symbols repeatedly flaunted in its every other episode just to exploit the religious sentiments taking an undue advantage. So the soldiers are here Soldiers first and Sikhs later, considering their duty and country much bigger than anything else. And this one merit alone fills you with a big respect for the vision of its writer and director, not falling into the trap, more in trending or demand today.
Secondly any such kind of conflict or fight is actually as good as its portrayal of villain, which works pretty well in the series because of Mukul Dev killing it as the opponent spreading the required amount of terror on screen.
Thirdly 21 SARFAROSH works because of its perfect casting of 21 Sikhs and the British officers too who never look like awkward or the weakest feature of the film (as normally seen in the projects featuring similar British characters). Mohit Raina puts his heart and soul in the act and he certainly deserves all the praises as Havaldaar Ishar Singh and his performance deserves to be seen by a much bigger audience unarguably. In fact such is his impact that post watching the series one will always recall him as Ishar Singh only and no one else. And NO, he is not given a beloved to sing songs or a love angle snatching the focus away in a few episodes saving us from the clichéd visuals.
Deserving a special mention, the 20 other Sikhs of the battalion are equally good and you never feel as some compromises done in their casting. The film does focus more on Ishar Singh but never as a solo hero of a project ignoring the others. It presents him as a captain/leader of his battalion with equal weightage given to all other soldiers. And together they beautifully lift up the series making it a worth watching one for sure with their collective efforts.
Mentioning the downers, the biggest drawback of the series is its over-length of 65 episodes which doesn’t excite you to go for it at the earliest. As I see it, this would have done much better, reaching many more viewers all over the world, had they kept it around 25-30 episodes focusing on the Saragarhi war alone. In the present format, the first 45 episodes are actually about the background when the Sikh regiment was appointed in the other two forts before the chosen 21 Sikhs were sent to guard the Saragarhi fort. It features many of those routine filmy insertions of ego-clashes, moles, betrayals, love affairs and more. So it would have been great if everything shown in these 45 episodes was summed up in the first 10-15 episodes before moving on to Saragarhi.
Secondly the VFX is not up to the mark if you compare it with the visible scale of the project. At times it turns out to be too amateurish not matching the standard displayed by the other technical departments to be frank. 
Thirdly the final episode could have been much better with the emotional outburst in the family. And then the music, the songs and the shabads (Sikh Devotional Verses) could have added a lot more in some better compositions as I personally felt. But then mediocrity or just average work in the soundtrack deaprtment is certainly the new norm nowadays. 
Summing up, despite its shortcomings 21 SARFAROSH is a must watch series for sure and has all the qualities to deserve much more praises than actually showered upon. But again, here we always get carried away by the bigger names, banners and at your face publicity campaigns, carelessly ignoring the other worth experiencing attempts made on the same subject.

Rating : 3.5 / 5
Note: The series is currently available on Netflix (with subtitles) and can be seen paying a subscription.
Sharing the news of other films being made on the subject as mentioned above.
Before the time when Karan Johar and Akshay Kumar announced their KESARI in 2017, Randeep Hooda gave this thoughtful answer to Indian Express, when asked about the multiples films being made on the Battle of Saragarhi. And he said, 
“It is good because there were 21 Sikh heroes in that battle and each one of them deserved to have a movie made on them. So actually there should be 21 films made instead of a few.”
At present, though his film directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi is at halt, there is speculation in the trade that it will get made as there is no use shelving the film half made after putting so much effort and resources into it. So it seems we will get to see it soon.
But along that I am really amazed as a producer from Punjabi Cinema is still confident and interested in making his own version of Battle of Saragarhi with all the Pollywood singers-cum-stars. No doubt anything is possible in this world of show-business any time without any reasoning.

In the end, would recommend watching this long series, may be from the 40th episode right away and then would recommened watching KESARI too getting the perfect idea how commercially inclined VISION distorts the things playing the unnecessary humour and religion card, just to get the cash counters ringing.

With Salute to the 21 brave soldiers of Saragarhi,

Tags : 21 SARFAROSH : SARAGARHI 1897 (TV-Series) Review by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Discovery/Netflix Series, More lesser known facts about the unique battle, Bollywood’s craze for the epic reminding you of multiple films on SHAHEED BHAGAT SINGH, Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing
20 Mar 2019 / Comment ( 0 )
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