Shahid Kapoor delivered one of his career’s biggest hits with Kabir Singh, the remake of the Telugu-language Arjun Reddy. Kapoor’s new film Jersey is also from Hyderabad. Gowtam Tinnanuru has remade his film of the same name from 2019, barely tinkering with the source material and even adding some minutes to the running length.
The 171-minute Hindi version is the saga of Arjun (Kapoor), a talented batsman who is on the edge of a promising career when he steps back from the game. Suspended from his government job after being falsely accused of corruption and forced to depend on his wife for money, 36-year-old Arjun has all but been turfed out of the sport and, it appears, from life itself.
This ticking time bomb, who is ripe for psychological counselling, is forced into action when his son demands a jersey of the sort worn by the national cricket team. Unable to afford the sum of Rs 500 – the film is set mostly in the 1990s – Arjun finally begins the steep climb towards glory.
Arjun’s long-time coach Bali (Pankaj Kapur) is his biggest advocate. Having declared that Arjun is the best Indian batsman in the annals of the game, Bali waits for his protege to get his act together.
The chronicle of heroism needs a villain, and should have found it in Arjun’s self-doubt. Tinnanuru’s screenplay half-heartedly explores Arjun’s crippling self-doubt, poor anger management and prickly pride. Somewhere along the feel-good arc of this typical sports drama is hidden a potentially curious film, one in which we better understand men like Arjun – flawed and egoistic but also vulnerable and endearing in their stubborn idealism.
Instead, Tinnanuru heaps some of the blame at the feet of Arjun’s wife Vidhya (Mrunal Thakur). Circumstances have transformed Vidhya from Arjun’s biggest cheerleader to his biggest detractor. Understandably fed up of her sulking husband and anxious about their precarious bank balance, Vidhya is nevertheless portrayed as the main obstacle that Arjun must navigate during his triumphant march back to the pavilion.
Arjun’s misery occupies nearly half the film’s runtime. It’s a downer all the way until Arjun begins swinging a metaphorical bat that sends the ball to the boundary.
But Tinnanuru isn’t done. He saves for the end a secret about Arjun so big that it has escaped his cricket handlers and has even evaded his biographer. So much for her reporting skills.
Despite operating in a realistic register, Jersey is frequently prone to exaggeration. Arjun’s advanced age – one of the key reasons for the doubts about his comeback– vanishes as soon as he begins to re-connect bat to ball. Sidharth-Garima’s dialogue actually trots out the cliche that “age is only a number”.
A charity match assumes as much importance as a World Cup event. When Arjun tries to borrow money from Vidhya, she hands over her entire jewellery collection.
It always keeps coming back to Vidhya. The relationship between husband and wife is as inconsistent as Arjun’s bond with his son is rock-steady. The Hindi remake ignores the opportunity to course-correct the punitive attitude towards Vidhya in the original Telugu film.
Shahid Kapoor and Mrunal Thakur are admirably committed to a narrative that goes on for far too long but says little about the challenges faced by older athletes. Kaun Pravin Tambe?, the biopic of the bowler who made his Indian Premiere League debut at the age of 41, did a far better job of portraying its lead character’s struggle for validation.
Kapoor broods well and wields the bat with confidence too. Mrunal Thakur, despite being saddled with a poorly written character, ably conveys Vidhya’s anguish. As Arjun’s buoyant coach, Pankaj Kapur lends much-needed lightness to a film that sometimes feels as heavy as its self-pitying hero.