Nani on Jersey, tapping into his emotional side, and why the cricket drama was a refreshing experience
Nani is excited about his latest film Jersey, in which he plays a middle-aged cricketer who overcomes several odds to make his comeback.
“Trust me, I’m restraining myself from talking too much about the film before its release. But I must say that I’ve never had an experience like this in my career so far,” Nani confesses as he begins talking about his forthcoming film Jersey.
Directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, the film has Nani playing a late bloomer, who wants to make his comeback as a professional cricketer. “It’s a quintessential sports drama about an underdog, but there’s so much more to it. There’s a beautiful father-son relationship, and it also highlights how Arjun (the character he plays) fights back despite age not being on his side,” the actor adds.
Sports dramas are a rarity in Telugu cinema, although with films like Jersey, and to an extent Majili, the genre is picking momentum. Nani agrees that the biggest challenge for him was to look convincing as a cricketer. “I have never played cricket at a serious level in my life. Whatever little I knew was not good enough to play this character in Jersey. Both Gowtam and I agreed that unless people connect with Arjun’s journey as a cricketer, they wouldn’t be invested in his life off the cricket pitch either. It was really important for me to undergo rigorous training in cricket before we started filming,” he says.
To prepare for the role, Nani worked closely with coach Daniel in his cricket academy in Hyderabad for nearly 70 days, and also watched a lot of cricket. “Daniel was very particular about my body language, stance, how I behaved on and off the field. It made a great deal of difference to my performance, and I can confidently say that we have cracked it,” Nani says. “There are quite a few sequences in the film which focus on the game. Jersey doesn’t just pay lip service to the sport it’s based on. We have gone all out to provide an interesting experience to the audience and they’ll empathise with the fall and rise of Arjun.”
The more he talks about Jersey the more his confidence in the film is palpable. “I have never experienced a string of emotions as strong as I went through while shooting for this film. I felt very close to the character I played, and on the last day of the shoot, I had tears in my eyes that I can’t be that character anymore. Even recently, when I saw a clip during the post-production, I had tears in my eyes,” the actor confesses. Is it because of the strong father-son relationship in the film? “I don’t know. Maybe I feel this way because I am a father now, but I really can’t point a finger to what led me to feel this way about Jersey. Some films are really special and you just know it. It feels like magic to me and I hope people also feel the same way when they watch it,” he adds.
Apart from having to learn cricket at a professional level, Nani avers that more than being a challenging role to play, Jersey taught him a lot as an actor. “As an actor, I have always thought about what I need to make a scene better. This trait has been consistent in all my films, so far. Jersey never gave me scope to think like that. I just had to be Arjun. It felt refreshing to be in this space, and I must give credit to Gowtam and how he wrote the script. I enjoyed playing the character so much more because I’m not constantly thinking about how to make it work,” he explains.
And the film also gave him a chance to enjoy his own work, without looking for flaws in his performance or think about what else he could have done. “Whenever I watch my own films, I go into a mode where I’m thinking what could I have done better; however, people don’t watch films like that. I could enjoy films featuring other actors, but I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of a filmgoer when it came to my own films. That didn’t happen with Jersey. There are people who told me that they had tears while watching my performance in Ninnu Kori, but I didn’t have the same feeling while watching the film. I might have been emotional while performing in that scene, but by the time I saw the film, the emotion wasn’t that strong for me. But with Jersey, I felt a strong connect with Arjun. That’s a new feeling for me. Now, I know what it feels like watching my own film as a movie goer.”
Earlier this month, Naga Chaitanya and Samantha-starrer Majili too toyed with similar themes including relationships, cricket, and love. However, Nani is unperturbed with the comparisons that are bound to come up between the two films. “I haven’t seen Majili, but I’m really happy that it went on to become a huge hit. It signifies that there’s a good demand for sports dramas, and it’s a good thing for Jersey too,” he says.
With Jersey focusing on the life of a late bloomer who wants to get back to playing a game that he has lost touch with, we wonder if Arjun in Jersey is the ‘Rocky’ Balboa of cricket? “Maybe,” Nani laughs, adding, “But Jersey is a lot more emotional. Even though it’s a fictional story, you’ll feel that a character like Arjun exists in real life too.”
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