Jersey movie review: Nani delivers a sublime performance in Gowtam Tinnanuri's emotional tour de force
There’s rarely a wrong note in Jersey, and it’s even more rare to come across a Telugu film which feels so real without being melodramatic
To say that Jersey is a labour of love would be an understatement. This film isn’t just about cricket and how beautiful the game is. It isn’t just about how one man breaks all preconceived notions about ageing sportsmen. It isn’t yet another sports drama about fulfilling dreams. Jersey is the story of a man, who’s scared that he might accept his own reality and the idea that he isn’t special. It drives him crazy, and he sets out on a journey to rewrite his own legacy. It’s hard to pinpoint why Jersey works like magic. It is as sublime as Sachin Tendulkar smashing a six or Federer hitting a backhand slice.
The film has Nani playing Arjun, a swashbuckling cricketer who has his eyes on the Indian cricket team. However, when his name is dropped from the list, he decides to quit playing cricket and settles down as a government employee. His wife Sara (Shraddha Srinath) and his son Nani (Ronit) are his world now; however, a decade later, his life goes downhill. Having been suspended from his job, he struggles to make ends meet, and has to depend on his wife for his expenses. Amidst all this, the only thing that remains intact is his love for his son, Nani (Ronit). The rest of the story is about how Arjun goes back to being a cricketer.
There’s rarely a wrong note in Jersey, and it’s even more rare to come across a Telugu film which feels so real without being melodramatic. There’s a wonderful scene in the beginning of the film where Sara tells Arjun to pay the electricity bill and gives him hundred rupee note. When Arjun asks her for Rs 500 to buy a gift for their son, she rejects his request bluntly. Resigned to his fate, Arjun accepts his reality and lives with the guilt of being an unproductive member of the family. Arjun is remarkably restrained as a person, and he never lets his emotions overwhelm him, except for one sequence where he wants to scream his lungs out out of sheer joy. He’s a silent fighter, who will not speak up even if it means having to undergo humiliation and rejection. But on the cricket field, Arjun is a different person. He feels so alive that nothing else matters to him, and after resisting the idea of going back for too long, he finally convinces himself, and also the world, that he still has a lot of fire in his belly. The contrast between this two phases in Arjun’s life is uplifting to watch. That the film gently pushes you to root for Arjun, despite not knowing how good a player he was, is testimony to some wonderful writing and a stellar performance by Nani.
Gowtam Tinnanuri’s vision of Jersey is a triumph in itself. The film is set in the 1980-90s, and the muted colour tone gives Jersey an other-worldly feel to it. It turns the wheel of time to an era where the gap between dreams and reality was too big to bridge; where spending Rs 500 for something would be too much of a financial burden for a middle-class family; where accepting their fate and not wanting to fight back was normal. Several films claim to be ‘honest’ and ‘real’ in their depiction of their characters’ lives. Jersey shows us what that looks and feels like. Its beauty lies in how un-cinematic the whole film feels because Gowtam draws us into the lives of the characters of Jersey instead of just showing them on screen. In the end, their dreams become ours, their triumph becomes our collective joy.
As Arjun, Nani hits a lots of boundaries and at times, he smashes the ball out of the stadium, but that’s not all. With Jersey, the actor has catapulted himself into the stratosphere of his acting prowess, and delivered a sublime performance that will be talked about for a long time. It looks like all those hours of playing cricket have come in handy; however, it’s his performance as a father of a young boy that takes your breath away. Shraddha Srinath makes an impressive debut in Telugu with Jersey. As Sara, Shraddha brings in a lot of authenticity to her character and whether it’s her confrontation with Nani or the tears that she holds back, Shraddha stands out with her performance. Ronit, who played Nani’s son, is a brilliant casting choice and the young boy takes you by surprise every time he’s on screen. Sathyaraj delivers another wonderful performance as a coach in the film.
Anirudh Ravichander lifts the story to another level with his music while the cinematography by Sanu Varghese is stunning. Gowtam Tinnanuri brings in a different flavour of storytelling with Jersey. It could have been an inspiring story about a cricketer, whose presence inspires others in the team; however, the film isn’t about how Arjun got back on the field. It’s about why he wanted to get back and the price he was willing to pay. And there lies the masterstroke of Jersey. At a run-time of 160 minutes, Jersey packs in so many emotional moments that it’ll leave
you with a heavy heart and loads of tears. It’s a blessing that this film exists in Telugu. Watch it, cherish it, and soak yourself in the world of Jersey. They don’t make such films so often these days.
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Jersey chronicles the story of a talented but failed cricketer, who decides to return to the field in his late 30s driven by the desire to represent the Indian cricket team and fulfil his son's wish for a jersey as a gift.