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#FilmReview: Watch ‘Jersey’ for Kapoor and Kapur, and its Cricket

The film carries forward Bollywood’s current obsession with the gentleman’s game

Suparna Sharma Apr 23, 2022
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Jersey (174 min)
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur, Mrunal Thakur, Ronit Kamra
Direction: Gowtam Tinnanuri
Rating: ★★★1/2
Playing in theatres

Film critics across the world have some handy shorthand explanations for certain filmy situations, plot twists and characters that they use quite regularly. It’s mostly for the sake of brevity and to avoid long-winded “film appreciation” lectures. These pithy observations are also pressed into action because certain characters and plot points are all too common in commercial films. But over time these shorthand explanations lose their power and don’t do justice to a film, a scene, a character, even a film review. One such filmy shorthand that I use quite often is, he/she “anchors” or “grounds” the film. 

I want to use it again today, for writer-director Gowtam Tinnanuri’s Jersey, but I want to breathe some life back into it.

In Jersey, Pankaj Kapur plays assistant cricket coach Balli, a father-like mentor to the film’s hero, played by Shahid Kapoor. That Kapur is one of Bollywood’s finest actors with an enviable range is an established, accepted fact. That he lights up every film and TV series he graces with his performance remains one of the few abiding joys of Bollywood. Same pinch, Jersey.

Kapur “anchors” and then lifts Jersey with his performance. By that, I mean he is like the ground on which the film stands. He gives it context – geographical and cultural – and forges an emotional connection between the film and us. We care about what’s happening, because he cares. 

Without Kapur, Jersey would have drifted, followed by our attention. 

The movie is a remake of a 2019 Telugu film, also titled Jersey. Gowtam Tinnanuri wrote and directed that one, and he’s directed this one too. That one was set in Hyderabad, this one is set in Chandigarh where Arjun Talwar (Kapoor), a Ranji player, has been trying to make it to the India team. A right-hand batsman who, according to coach Balli, is one of the finest with an enviable record of centuries and boundaries, Arjun keeps getting tripped by the politics and corruption of the selection process. So, at the age of 26, he quits cricket and takes up a government job.

We first meet Arjun when he is 36 years old and has been suspended from his job because of a scam that’s under investigation.

He is broke, in depression and is trying to arrange Rs 500 so that he can buy an India cricket jersey for his son, Kittu (Ronit Kamra), whom he adores. Arjun’s friends are sweet but broke. His wife, Vidya (Mrunal Thakur), could try to help, but she is exhausted and irritated with his inertia. His decision to first quit cricket and then not be desperate to get his job back bothers her. Her salary is not enough to fix the leaking roof and pay rent. 

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All this we see in flashback, courtesy Kittu, who is now a young man and has returned to Chandigarh for the release of his father’s biography written by a sports journalist. 

After Kabir Khan’s 83 and Jayprad Desai’s Kaun Pravin Tambe?Jersey is the third cricket film to be released in four months. The earlier two were based on real events, had real characters. 

Jersey has many story, personality and sporting similarities with the life and cricketing career of Raman Lamba, who died in 1998 after being hit on the temple with a cricket ball in Bangladesh. But writer-director Tinnanuri insists that his film is not based on Lamba’s life. 

That’s half true. Tinnanuri has added a bit of Pravin Tambe to the tale of Lamba.
Jersey flits between two phases of the past, and the present.

In past part one, Arjun is young and has a promising career. He also has long hair and an arrogant on-field swag common amongst stylish batsmen. Vidya, young and in love, is always screaming from the stands, and soon she leaves her disapproving father to marry him. 

The other past is 10 years later, when Arjun and Vidya have a school-going son and the only sound in their house is cooker ki seeti and Vidya’s complaints.

Balli arranges a coaching job for Arjun. But he says he’d rather play cricket for India. There are no takers for the daring and zid of a 36-year-old man who hasn’t played cricket for a decade. And yet Arjun is determined to undo years of being emotionally absent from the life of his wife and son by playing first-class cricket because that’s what makes him and Kittu happy.

Jersey has a compelling, inspiring story, and its three main characters are etched out nicely. Arjun and Vidya even have shades of grey. They are not bad people. They are just struggling with life and their expectations from it.

It’s the character of little Kittu that the film can’t get right. Kamra is sweet and acts well. But some of the dialogues assigned to him are strangely adult, and at times he is very friendly with his father and at times very formal.

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The script could have been sharper and the direction in some places could have been better, especially in the film’s opening scene that is terribly tacky and stiff. 

Despite all this, Jersey is thrilling and moving because it makes up for all its flaws by giving us some exciting cricketing moments, and by pairing Kapur and Kapoor.

Jersey has a lot of cricket – in stadiums between Ranji teams, as well as practice sessions on misty Chandigarh mornings. 

There are many matches and each one arrives with text on the screen – “Punjab Vs Karnataka at Wankhede Stadium.” There are also scoreboards, boundaries, sledging, cricket commentary, and nine runs to make off two balls. All of this makes the cricketing moments in the film feel real.

Jersey is set in Chandigarh and the film’s dialogue, written by Siddharth and Garima, are cutely colloquial and Punjabi. The thing about Punjabis is that they are always a little extra. In behavior, in life, in the way they love, fight, talk and eat. That’s why it is never just “laddu.” It’s always “laddu-shaddu.” Jersey’s dialogue writers get this right and assign the task of adding the Punjabi flavor to the film to Arjun’s friends who are funny and warm.

Thakur too is competent and radiant. She’s lovely and very smiley as a young Vidya, and her personality and skin tone fade as Arjun’s love fades. 

Nothing more needs to be said about Kapur, except that he makes the film sparkle.

Kapoor, who seems to have become the go-to Bollywood actor for Telugu remakes, doesn’t have his father’s range and versatility, but the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. 

Though his Punjabi accent keeps fluctuating in Jersey, he flits easily between playing two personalities of the same man – Mr. Sunshine and Mr. Sulk. Both control the film’s temper and temperature.

The whole point of commercial cinema, especially Bollywood, is that we know it’s all make-believe, and that’s why we buy into it. Yet, in Jersey, it’s the infusion of reality – of father-son playing coach and student – that creates a very special, almost familial bond with it. Watch Jersey for Kapoor and Kapur, and watch it for its cricket.

There’s something very special about the game of cricket and Indian directors have finally cracked it.

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