Jersey review: Soaked in blood and sweat yet doesn’t feel like the original Jersey

It’s not the rehashed screenplay, but Shahid Kapoor’s innings is not as spirited as the one played by Nani, the original Arjun.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Another Friday where there’ll be not one but two Hindi remakes of southern films.  This isn’t a new trend as Hindi cinema has a long history of seeking inspiration from the South. There’s one key change though as Southern cinema doesn’t necessarily require a remake to win over Hindi audiences.  The success of films like Baahubali, K.G. F franchises, RRR [2022] and the direct release of other acclaimed films on OTT platforms has expanded the viewership base of South Indian cinema in the Hindi belt. It thus begs the question, if this trend continues, will there be a need for a Hindi remake?

Late last year, yours truly briefly spoke to Mrunal Thakur as the actor was leaving the theatre after the Jersey [2022] trailer launch press conference.  The actor requested this reviewer to watch the Hindi remake without seeing the original.  Sorry Mrunal, but as slaves of critiquing we are often bound to watch the original. It’s not always possible but with the OTT boom, the gems from South Indian cinema are quickly snapped up by premier OTT networks. 

Three days before the press show of the Hindi remake, yours truly happened to find the original National award-winning Telugu film on Zee5.  At 150 minutes in length, the Telugu film felt like a marathon Rahul Dravid innings, but in a winning cause. The Hindi remake is stretched by 24 minutes.  Director Gowtam Tinnanuri has literally rehashed his 2019 Telugu film for the Hindi remake. That though is no criticism. Often Hindi remakes tend to fall apart by trying to alter few things here and there. Mahesh Bhatt made a successful career out of rehashing some popular films.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Imitation is often the best form of flattery.

Naturally, a Hindi remake sees the setting shift from Hyderabad to Punjab.  The Punjabi setting enabling Bollywood to pick pretty faces.  So, Arjun G [Nani] turns into Arjun Talwar [Shahid Kapoor] from Punjab. Talwar is an appropriate surname for a batter who wields a fine blade [cricketing jargon for the rectangular part of a cricket bat].  He topped the batting charts in the 1985-1986 Ranji Trophy [India’s premier domestic first-class competition] but Arjun Talwar quit the game after being overlooked again by the Indian national selectors.  Selection in Indian cricket has often been a debated issue,

Eight-years later, he is suspended from a government job owing to a corruption scandal. Two years down the line, he promises his little son Ketan fondly called Kittu [ Ronit Kamra] that he would present him with the original Indian jersey for his birthday.  But the literally penniless dad can’t even afford Rs500.  Yes, that was still some money in 1996 for low income group households.

Arjun agrees to play a charity match against the visiting Kiwis in the hope of winning Rs1000 as match fees. Sadly, his mentor, coach Bali [Pankaj Kapur] had only tricked him into playing the charity game just to see if the man still has the talent. Though pissed with Bali, Arjun eventually realizes that the road to redemption lies only through cricket. Tired of his miseries, he dares to return to competitive cricket at the age of 36. His goal is to win a place in the Indian national side, earn that coveted Indian jersey and gift it to his son. Each sport has its late bloomers. New Zealand’s Grant Elliot scripted a great victory over South Africa in the semi-final of the 2015 ICC World Cup. He was 36 then.

Popular cricket presenter, commentator Harsha Bhogle often says that live sports isn’t scripted.  Yeah, scripts are only for the movies. Tinnanuri’s film is entirely a work of fiction. The director takes few extra liberties to script his ‘game’play. Right from the first comeback charity game to the Ranji Trophy semi-final, our champion batter often begins his innings with a boundary. Even couple of opposition batters do the same. Maybe the writer, director needed to be craftier in their gameplay. The monotony ends in the first innings of the Ranji Trophy final [Punjab v/s Karnataka] when Arjun is bowled for a duck.

The cricketing contests in the Hindi remake had more intensity than the unconvincing efforts in the Telugu film.  It must be stated that some of the strokes by Shahid Kapoor had shades of MS Dhoni. But the Telugu film didn’t have the luxury of availing professional cricketing expertise. The contests in the Telugu film were largely played on grassless, barren fields. Truth be told, very few Indian cricket grounds then boasted of world class infrastructure, lush green outfields, quality pitches. Many Ranji Trophy finals were played on average cricketing grounds.  

The Hindi remake would perhaps connect better with people who haven’t seen the original film. But people like us would feel a sense of déjà vu. It’s not the rehashed screenplay, and though well played, the Shahid Kapoor innings is not as spirited as the one played by the original Arjun [Nani].  No needless comparison but perhaps Nani’s efforts forged a stronger emotional connect with the audience. 

A ten-year gap between your next game would naturally see an athlete go out of shape. While that lack of fitness is evident in Nani’s body, but our man Shahid Kapoor still sports a chiseled physique. Given the real reason behind him quitting the game, the chiseled frame of Shahid Kapoor is all the more baffling.

Shahid Kapoor has lived much of his life in Mumbai. Though a half-Punjabi, he doesn’t quite have a natural command over the language. His conversation with his reel coach and real father Pankaj Kapur, and his closest pals in Jersey [2022] are tinged with Punjabi, where he clearly finished second best. The beard, cigarette and the sombre look have a Kabir Singh hangover to it. Hey, but as Kapoor revealed himself, he had signed Jersey when Kabir Singh hadn’t even released.  Ardent Kapoor fans will cheer this Arjun avatar, but it’s an effort that perhaps needed to go that extra mile to make Shahid Kapoor the Man of the Match in the new Jersey.

The original too had its flaws, and it was largely the individual effort of Nani that worked for the Telugu film.  What makes Arjun’s story worthy of retelling is not just the undying spirit but at the heart of this story lies paternal care. This characteristic to a male protagonist isn’t much explored.  The man is jobless but not envious of his working wife. The child is naturally closer to the father. Arjun’s comeback isn’t driven much by a sporting desire, but to rise again in the eyes of his wife and child. He wants a jersey that is earned, not bought.  The great Sunil Gavaskar often talks about how merchandise can be availed by any fan, but the Indian jersey with the BCCI [Board of Control For Cricket in India] crest should only be earned by cricketers.

Child artiste Ronit Kamra is the lone lucky chap to be playing Arjun’s son in both the original and the remake. It’s not just North India women, but Southern cinema is open to embracing a Punjabi child artiste too. Kamra is adorable but Tinnanuri could have got more out of him. 

Save for Anjum Batra, who plays Arjun’s best pal Amrit, the other actors are not very convincing. The veteran Pankaj Kapur has his moments, but the character fails to build consistent engagement. The director and his dialogue writers Siddharth-Garima don’t shy from bringing out the Punjabi bigot in Kapur. Unimpressed by Vidya Rao’s father ridiculing his protégé, an angry Bali throws the Madrasi stereotype at the Telugu man. Though insensitive, the stereotyping of all South Indians as Madrasees was common in north India and in Bollywood in those days. Siddharth-Garima cop the blame for not being creative enough in their dialogues.  The adapted screenplay simply comes across more as a Telugu to Hindi translation.

Tinnanuri shifts the setting to Punjab, but his female protagonist remains a Telugu.  Vidya Rao [Mrunal Thakur] eloped with Arjun and all seemed well between the family till the latter quit cricket. Thakur is largely underwhelming in her role with no real chemistry between Shahid and her.

Seasoned actor Rituraj Singh, best known for the show Banegi Apni Baat [1993], makes a rare appearance but there is not much to speak about his performance.

Much like the original, the Hindi remake, too, mirrors the ebb and flow of a Test match. Sachet-Parampara’s playback music isn’t captivating either. You can’t create a Kabir Singh [2019] each time. The director, editor could have easily trimmed the film by 20 minutes. There was no need to cover every match of Arjun’s comeback season. We get a feeling that the additional 24 minutes vis-à-vis the Telugu film were perhaps spent in adding screen time to Anjum Batra’s character Amrit, who drew the loudest cheer in the press show.

Starting with 83 [2022], there’s perhaps been an overdose of cricket related films recently. Shreyas Talpade’s much acclaimed Kaun Pravin Tambe? [2022] covered the undying spirit of a struggling, aged cricketer brilliantly.  It begs the question, will the janta warm up to a fictitious, comeback story of Arjun? Jersey is soaked in blood and sweat, but it doesn’t quite feel like the original.  Tinnanuri, Shahid Kapoor have played their innings. Now it’s up to the ultimate selectors [audience] to judge their performance.

Jersey [2022] is set to be released in theatres on 22 April. Watch the trailer below.


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