Jersey wants to be a century, but ends up being a couple of singles

In one of the scenes in Jersey, Shahid Kapoor’s Arjun Talwar tells his friend that he really has to fulfil his son’s wish and get him the Indian Cricket Team’s jersey for his birthday but doesn’t have money for it. His friend then gets very excited about the fact that he knows a place where he can buy a copy, an unoriginal. Arjun gets angry. That was also me when I was served a copy, an unoriginal film. Because that’s what Jersey feels like – a second grade version of brilliant film. Even if you haven’t watched the wonderful Jersey (Telugu) [both films written and directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, the Hindi remake feels second grade because it tries to be a lot but ends up becoming nothing.

Jersey traces the failures and eventual victory of Arjun Talwar – a 36 year old man who had once given up on his dream of becoming a cricketer, then his government job and is now at the verge of giving up on his marriage. Jersey has a great foundation, the story has potential. I’ve watched the Telugu film, which is almost a frame to frame predecessor of the Hindi film. So I know what this film could’ve been worth. But in Hindi, the film stays stuck at just being potential. When you sit in that seat for almost three hours and watch the film unravel, you realise what a genius idea this would’ve been on paper. There’s no execution, and sadly no emotion. Jersey lacks the roar sports biopics usually come with. It’s no even an actual sports biopic, but the treatment makes it so.

This is a film about cricket, and in India we take our cricket very seriously. I may know nothing about the game but for the last couple of weeks all I hear at dinners is what’s going on in the IPL. Even casual coffee conversations are about nothing but cricket. And these people, even strangers across the table at these cafes, speak about cricket with more passion than Jersey. The film’s second half is entirely about the sport and the Ranji matches. But not once do you see what goes into becoming a cricketer of that level, especially for a 36 year old competing with boys who are in their early twenties. Sport requires continuous practice, physical strength – or so I was told – but here, Arjun returns to the ground after 10 years and all he does is hits the boundary. “Match mein singles bhi lie jaate hain,” Arjun’s coach tells him. While there may be no singles in his game, Jersey at large is nothing but a couple of singles all scattered in the innings.

But that’s not all that Jersey is about. The film promotes itself as a glorification of second chances. It’s a cliched attempt to tell society that “age is just a number”. That’s also a dialogue in the film. So you can understand the cliched treatment of the whole “second chances” conflict. But where the film wins is that it’s a film about relationships. Husband-wife, father-son, player-coach – these are the biggest strengths of Jersey.

How smart can a film be where the child actor, who plays cricket, is named Kittu? Is that a nickname for a kit?

Shahid Kapoor plays husband, father and player – all with an understated charm. He’s terrific on ground but somehow, in the emotional moments he begins to show potential, shows a bit of it and then it vanishes into thin air. This isn’t a bad performance, no. But here’s a man who is capable of so(ooooooo) much more – think of him in Haider, Udta Punjab, even the sexist Kabir Singh. In Jersey, Kapoor shows that he’s capable of diving into the depths of human emotions, but never really dives entirely. He keeps coming to the surface for breath. He shares a fantastic chemistry with Ronit Kamra (his son in the film) and Pankaj Kapur (coach) but Jersey isn’t bold enough to tap into these relationships as much as it wants to.

The film is also scared to tap into the husband-wife conflict and what it means to fall out of love in a marriage. Think of the wonderful Marriage Story, a film that gave me goosebumps. I’m not saying that Jersey needs to go where Marriage Story went, but Jersey never even gives this marriage an arc. We don’t get to see the conflict between two people who used to love each other and today they almost can’t stand each other. I would’ve loved to know what happened between Arjun and Vidhya (Mrunal Thakur), why is Vidhya so against him playing when she was his biggest supporter. Mrunal Thakur, a lovely, raw actor – one of the most natural actors of recent times – stands wasted in a character that is strong but never tapped into. She’s there to smile and laugh and clap and say namaste, but is never studied. I get it, this is not Vidhya’s film. It’s a film about Arjun. But no matter how supporting a character, they deserves an arc.

The real winner of Jersey, and the reason why I could sit through the film, is Pankaj Kapur. He plays his character to perfection. Even if this character was underwritten, Kapur doesn’t let it show. He plays the same character across three age groups, and lends such a beautiful rendition to each. Look out for him in the climax of the film – the voice modulation, the body language.

Having said everything, Jersey has its moments. Moments that define each of the above mentioned relationships, the initial cricket matches and the climax. But soon enough everything fades away. A large part of the first half of the film is wasted in sourcing 500 rupees, the cricket matches lack emotions and the “X factor” of the climax comes in too late. Till then the damage is done.

All in all, Jersey had potential but no execution. It has drama but without emotion. And how smart can a film be where the child actor, who plays cricket and his father is obsessed with cricket, is named Kittu? Is that a nickname for a kit? Who can tell!

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