Jersey is an official remake of Gowtam Tinnanuri’s own Telugu film Jersey (2019), starring Nani. The film, which is set in the ’80s and ’90s, revolves around an ex-Ranji cricketer Arjun Talwar (Shahid Kapoor) who takes up the sport again at the age of 36 to please his young son Kittu (Ronit Kamra). Arjun is married to Vidya (Mrunal Thakur), who used to be his biggest cheerleader but resents his late foray into the sport. Arjun has a government job but has been suspended on false charges of corruption. Vidya, who works in the hospitality industry, has been running the house single-handedly and the harshness of the situation has put a strain on her relationship with her husband. Kittu demands the official jersey of the Indian cricket team for his upcoming birthday. It costs 500 rupees, which is a huge sum for the unemployed Arjun. Egged on by his former coach Balli (Pankaj Kapur), he picks up the bat again to play for the Punjab team against the visiting New Zealand team in a charity match in the hope of getting some money as match fees. He emerges as the highest run-getter, which further prompts him to try to get back in the Punjab cricket team. He does get selected and through his gutsy batting, make them the Ranji champions. He’s set to realise his dream of getting selected for the Indian cricket team but fate seems to have other plans for him…
Jersey combines the elements of family drama and sports drama. It revolves around Arjun’s interaction with three people he loves and respects – his wife, his son and his coach. His relationship with all three has been shaky for a while and how he does his best to improve it forms the crux of the story. Gowtam Tinnanuri gives us a glimpse of a love story fallen on hard times through Arjun and Vidya’s tale. She comes from a well-to-do family who elopes with a young cricketer because of the passion he has for the sport, only to see him give it up when he doesn’t get selected for the national team. She still loves him but wants him to face up to his new reality and move on. His coach wants Arjun to start coaching youngsters and come back to cricket as he instinctively knows his pupil is happiest when he’s on the field. And his son, a budding cricketer himself, understands something is wrong between his father and mother but finds himself helpless to do anything about it. The most poignant scene occurs when Vidya slaps Arjun out of frustration. He doesn’t retaliate at all, which makes her feel all the more guilty. Arjun’s interactions with his coach Balli, who is somewhat of a father-figure for him, are made more credible by the fact that they are paid by the real life father and son, Shahid and Pankaj Kapur. There’s an easy camaraderie between them, which reflects well on screen.
The cricketing portions come in the second half. The director has kept the fact that it’s state level cricketers he’s showcasing and not national team players playing against international opponents. The cricket choreography is bang on and we must thank veteran cinematographer Anil Mehta for capturing them so effortlessly. The film’s period details are maintained well and the production design and costume team have to be lauded for that. The linear progression doesn’t work well for the film. It would have been best if the film brought some of the cricket action in the first half as well, using flashback and flash forward techniques and opting for a non-linear progression. It would have mixed things up rather nicely. In the current state, the first and the second half feel like they are two different films joined together. That’s our only complaint against this otherwise well-crafted, well-acted film.
Mrunal Thakur does share a chemistry with Shahid Kapur and we wished they had more scenes together as a couple to showcase the spark they share. She enacts her role of a harassed middle class wife to perfection and is an asset to the film. Though we’d have liked it if she constantly didn’t address her husband as Babu. Pankaj Kapur is one of the finest actors of this generation. Just being in the frame makes him look believable in any role. Here, as Arjun’s mentor, coach and friend, he’s as natural as they come. You don’t see an actor but an actual person and that’s acting masterclass alright. Shahid Kapur played a rebel without a cause in his last release, Kabir Singh (2019), as well. It too was a remake of a Teugu hit. Here, the rebel is also a loving father grasping at second chances. Shahid is a fine actor and has taken pains to make his character as real as possible. It’s perhaps his most non-starry role till date. His scenes with Ronit Kamra, who is wonderful as Kittu, smack of real father-son conversations. But it’s in his scenes with his own father, Pankaj Kapur that he truly excels. Like a patient student, he takes cues from Pankaj’s performance and molds his own body language and voice accordingly. It’s easily one of his finest performances till date.
Kaun Pravin Tambe, which released recently, was a biopic of an actual cricketer who got selected in the IPL at the age of 40 and made a name for himself. Jersey is a fictionalised account of a man caught in a similar set of circumstances. Both tell us about sportsmen playing at the grassroots level. An MS Dhoni or a Sania Nehwal are people who achieved tremendous amounts of success. But there are thousands out there who are not that successful and yet are into sports for the sheer joy of it. It’s good that their stories are also being told nowadays.
Watch the film for its superlative acting and the emotional journey it takes you through. Jersey is something that can be enjoyed by the whole family, which is something of a rarity these days.
Archika Khurana, April 21, 2022, 3:58 AM IST
Jersey Story: Frustrated with his life away from the dressing room, former Ranji Cricket player Arjun Talwar (Shahid Kapoor) decides to return to the sport at the age of 36 to prove his worth to his wife, Vidhya (Mrunal Thakur) and to remain a hero for his school-going son (Ronit Kamra). Does he really succeed?
Jersey Review: This official Hindi remake of the Nani-starrer Jersey (in Telugu), which also won a National Award, tracks the journey of a domestic star cricketer who opts out of the sport at the peak of his career. Gowtam Tinnanuri, who helmed the original and has directed the remake, too, takes the non-judgemental and an emotion-soaked route to narrate Arjun Talwar’s story from the dressing room, to social dressing down and back into the dressing room where he feels he truly belongs. Without ever playing the victim, the character, played by Shahid Kapoor, is easy to associate with.
The distinguishing factor of this sports drama lies in the fact that the protagonist does not take off on a journey of self-redemption or one of achieving a goal to prove one’s worth to him or herself while making a strong statement. This one’s about a father, who plunges back into the sport, knowing it can be detrimental to his very existence, only to remain a hero to his son and wife and to fulfill a little wish his child has.
Arjun’s journey is also one of defying odds – he’s not easily accepted back into the fold, he doesn’t have age by his side, and with every step of the way, his position at home, especially in the eyes of his wife, slips . Shahid impresses when he’s on the crease but he’s even more impressive when he’s struggling to get back to it. Mrunal Thakur, who plays Arjun’s practically-thinking and earning spouse, Vidhya, is just as relatable a character as is Arjun. Her love, her mounting frustration, fear, hope, confusion have all been presented well. Both of it is courtesy of powerful writing and an internalized performance by Shahid and Mrunal. Shahid’s preparation for playing the cricketer in the film are evidenced in the manner in which he holds his own when he’s on the pitch.
One of the emotional high-points of the film is the camaraderie Pankaj Kapur shares with Shahid and the nuance with which he plays an aging assistant coach. It’s affable and wonderful to see the comfort with which they switch between sharing the father-son vibe and a friendly-banter. Kittu, played by Ronit Kamra, is the lens through which the filmmaker, and hence, the audience, sees Arjun’s story unfold. His chemistry with Shahid is palpable.
In the technical departments, the gaming portions have been shot and choreographed well. The depiction of the passage of time between the years when Arjun is a star player, when he’s sworn to stay off the field and when he gets back into the game have all been depicted with finesse. The change in Shahid’s body contours, the presence and absence of freckles on his face, and his body language have been put to good use. Ditto for Mrunal. In terms of writing and direction, the film packs in a lot for its 174-minute run-time. The humour and emotionally-stirring moments stem from the core of the characters and what they have chosen to do. Each of the primary characters has an arc of his or her own. Cinematography by Anil Mehta and Sachet-Parampara’s music also add to the package. The film’s production design deserves a special mention for effortlessly presenting the time periods that this film travels through.
On the flip-side, the pace of the film is a tad sluggish, overall. Also, sometimes, you do find Arjun’s hurdles vanishing just before you see him struggle enough to get past them. One could have done with a few more opportunities to cheer for Arjun’s character in the course of the runtime. Even though this is a sports-led drama, you don’t quite encounter too many of those nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat moments, though whatever you see engages you, especially if you have not seen the original. This film leans more on emotional drama, while it could have struck a finer balance between the sports and the human drama.
If you’re expecting nail-biting cricketing moments, you’re probably going to be a tad disappointed. But if you’re game for an inspiration and moving father-son story, this one’s totally worth your ticket.
Also See: Kiara Advani praises Shahid Kapoor performance in ‘Jersey’, latter replies in ‘Kabir Singh’ style