Jersey Review: Nani hits this one out of the park
Nani turns in a career-best performance and is matched by the acting chops of debutante Shraddha Srinath, the directing skills of Gowtam Tinnanuri, and very ably supported by the rest of the team
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 two time periods -- 1986 and 1996. At 26, Arjun (Nani), is a celebrated Ranji player and a flamboyant virtuoso with the bat. However, his dream to play for Indian cricket team comes crashing down and he gives up his favourite sport.
Arjun's life turns upside down in 10 years and he 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, lack of drive and a sense of purpose. He wants to be his son’s hero and so, tries to resurrect his career.
Director: Gowtam Tinnanuri
Cast: Nani, Shraddha Srinath, Sathyaraj, Ronit Kamra
The film connects Arjun’s triumph-against-all-odds trajectory with many other stories in which fathers and sons find themselves forging a deep bond with each other. But Jersey works despite its predictable story, and this is due to the compelling performances. It’s the sort of a film that you go into with low expectations and find yourself pleasantly surprised with.
Gowtam Tinnanuri’s recreation of life in a middle-class household feels authentic, as do his characters. The 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. The debutante gives a memorable performance, and makes a deep impact on the audience with her feisty act and intense display of emotions. Nani brings real empathy to the part of a man frequently blamed and made to feel like he alone is responsible for all the turmoil. Their chemistry, despite the conflict between them, is quite charming. The film is a delight to watch as long as it stays focused on this couple and how their actions affect their son.
Some portions of the film are brilliant. The 36-year-old Arjun is introduced to the Hyderabad cricket association officials by his coach, Murthy (Sathyaraj in a role that acts as the catalyst to change the course of the story). In the following scene and during a Ranji trophy opener, the board official insists that Arjun stays at the crease until the end of day's play even if he doesn't open his account. But, Arjun enthralls the crowd by hitting a century. 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 is not picked for the Nationals is palpable, and he makes you root for him as he aims for 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 us teary-eyed and swelling with pride. Although we knew it’s how this story would end, we are still happy to settle for it. Much of the credit should go to Gowtam for wonderfully executing these scenes. The director also deserves credit for turning a fantastic script into an inspiring film.
Jersey benefits enormously from Anirudh Ravichander’s inspired score, which is unique and complements cinematographer Sanu Varghese's amazing work perfectly. Topped off with a career-best performance from Nani, who goes from funny to poignant, from battered to blessed, in a matter of moments, this is one of the finest films we've seen in Telugu in a long time. It will make you laugh, shed tears and cheer.