Jersey, directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, is more than just a sports drama. It’s a fascinating middle-class family entertainer that delivers emotional punches outside the boundary line. Set in Hyderabad, the narrative spans between – 1986 and 1996. At 26, Arjun (Nani), was a celebrated Ranji player and a flamboyant virtuoso with the bat. His invincible dream to play for Indian cricket team comes crashing down and he forcibly gives up his favourite sport only to lose his way in life’s possibilities. His life turns upside down in 10 years and Arjun leads a miserable life with his wife, Sarah (Shraddha Srinath) and son, Nani (Ronit Kamra).
One day, Nani asks him for an Indian cricket team jersey as his birthday gift and Arjun makes futile attempts to fulfil his wish. He curses himself for his incapability, having no drive and lacking the sense of purpose and meaning to his life. He wants to be his son’s hero and tries to resurrect his career which has been hanging in the fringes for a long time, with renewed enthusiasm.
The film’s story, however, is not from the present but from the past, connecting Arjun’s triumph-against-all-odds trajectory and many other stories in which fathers and sons find themselves forging a deep bond with each other. The film works despite the fact that it’s a predictable story due to its compelling performances. It’s a sort of a film where one goes into the theatres with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised with the output.
Gowtam Tinnanuri’s recreation of life in a middle-class household feels authentic, as do his characters. The big strength of the film is the conflict between Arjun and Sarah. It’s hard to take your eyes off Shraddha Srinath as a hard-pressed wife, who struggles to demonstrate her affection for her husband openly. Nani brings real empathy to the part of a man frequently blamed and made to feel like he’s alone responsible for the turmoil. Their chemistry as they try to hold these conjectures is charming. The film is a delight to watch as long as it stays focussed on this couple and how their actions have its effect on their son.
Some portions of the film are brilliant. A 36-year-old Arjun is introduced to the Hyderabad cricket association officials by his coach, Murthy (Sathyaraj). In the following scene and during a Ranji trophy opener, the board official insists that Arjun stays at the crease until the end of days play even if he doesn’t open his account. But, Arjun, known for repeatedly whacking the ball out of sight, enthralls the crowd by hitting a century. He also draws support from his coaches because scoring runs will help him reach his goal to represent the National team He soon transforms into an elite player for his team and ends up as the top scorer on many occasions.
Nani is refreshing as Arjun and his body language is perfect as a professional cricketer. His frustration when his name was not picked for Nationals was palpable and at the same time, he makes you root for him as he sets his goal single-mindedly without being discouraged by obstacles in his family life. These aspects of the film keep you invested.
The penultimate scenes with Arjun’s blitzkrieg against Mumbai in the Ranji trophy final game push the right buttons and leave your chest swelling with pride and teary-eyed. Although you knew that it’s how this story will end, you are happy to settle for it. Much of the credit should go to Gowtam for wonderfully executing these scenes.
Sathyaraj, who takes the role of Arjun’s coach is saddled with the responsibility and offers a performance that comes off as a catalyst that helps the story to change its course. Debutante Shraddha Srinath gives a memorable performance, leaving a deep impact on the audience with her feisty act and intense display of emotions.
Jersey benefits enormously from Anirudh Ravichander’s inspired score, which is unique and complements cinematographer Sanu Varghese’s amazing work perfectly. As a director, Gowtam Tinnanuri makes a wonderful film, turning a fantastic script into an inspiring film.
On a final note, Jersey is one of the finest films you’ll see in a long time. It’s a story topped off with a career-best performance by Nani who goes from funny to poignant, from battered to blessed in a matter of moments. The film will make you laugh, shed tears and cheer for the protagonist. Without any doubt, it’s going to be an overwhelming experience.
Rating: 3.5/ 5