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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Jersey, Review: Down and out, yet 300 not out

Jersey, Review: Down and out, yet 300 not out

A loser making it big in sports is the stuff that many films have been made on. This one tries to be different. Imagine a cricketer who quit the game years ago, is dead broke, and his government job has landed him under suspension. You can bet that he will make a comeback and reach a new zenith, however, it does not quite happen the way you might anticipate. Yes, his return to the game is a major twist, but the giant of a twist is reserved for the end. Part of the journey is engaging, while for the greater part, it is just a tale of two individuals, husband and wife, either wallowing in self-pity or bickering about each other’s responsibilities and duties. The end does explain some of these occurrences, but by then you have been lulled into a flurry of fours and sixes on the cricket ground. As a tear-jerker, it succeeds marginally, while as film about a big-hitting cricket batsman, it crosses the same boundaries that all films about cricket do, in the same manner.

Chandigarh-based cocky cricketer Arjun Talwar is in love with just two things: his game and a girl called Vidhya. The affair is so torrid that he often makes love in a barn seconds before he is called out to bat. He is a star batsman, hitting centuries almost at will, and has no other occupation or source of income. Arjun’s assistant coach, who is all the family he has, approaches Vidhya’s father, Nana, asking for her hand, but Nana snubs them and refuses. Arjun and Vidhya go ahead with a court marriage. Arjun gives up cricket and finds a job in the Food Corporation of India as a Foodgrain Inspector while Vidhya works at Hotel Mount View. Unfortunately, Arjun is framed in a corruption case, one among fifteen named as accused. This attracts a two-year suspension, without pay.

It is tight going for the Talwars, who now have a son, Karan ‘Kittu’ to raise. Arjun sinks into depression, smokes a lot, keeps borrowing money that he never returns, spends any money that Vidhya might give him to pay utility bills, has a bunch of friends who indulge in drinking and gambling whenever they can find a ‘host’, and, in a nutshell becomes a classic loser. Vidhya begins to lose faith in Arjun, when he tries to steal from her purse. Normally not one to stoop so low, he does so to but Kittu a Jersey, the Jersey of the Indian Cricket team, which, costs Rs. 500. It would be pertinent to point out that the film plays out from the late 70s to the 1990s. Kittu, who had never asked his Papa for anything, asks for this Jersey, and he promises him that he will buy it. Let alone Rs. 500, he does not even have Rs. 5 with him, and the shopkeeper refuses to give it on credit or reduce its price. And then his assistant coach tells him that the New Zealand cricket team will be playing a Charity match in Chandigarh and the players who are participating command a fee of Rs. 1,000. Pushing 36 years of age, Arjun nevertheless decides to try his luck, to help his son realise his dream and to fulfil the promise he made to Kittu.

Made in 2019 by writer-director Gowtham Tinnanuri under the same title, it has the same script, with only the Hindustani dialogue being penned by Sidhharth and Garima. You have little sympathy for Arjun, since he is brash, gets into brawls at the drop of a hat, makes love when he should be walking towards the crease, smokes, and so on. He adds to his demerits by getting into spats with Vidhya, refusing to run any errands that she delegates to him, uses money meant to pay the electricity bill to gamble, etc. Why has Tinnanuri painted him in such dark shades defies comprehension. Kittu’s fixation with the Jersey is a bit hard to accept. He seems to be smart enough to know that his father has no money, so why does he make such a demand? And even if he does, Arjun’s decision to get the Jersey at any cost is rather illogical. Yes, he is a doting father and yes Kittu had never asked for anything earlier, but surely Arjun could have explained the situation to him.

The cricket scenes come as a rapid-cutting montage, with the same commentator shouting throughout the film, even when two commentators are shown. Field placing is mentioned just once in the entire film. Although Arjun turns a hero when he pulverises the bowling attack of the opposing team, it is extremely hard to believe that any batsman would score so many hundreds, double and triple centuries, including a 300 not out, and only one score of less than 100 – that being a duck (zero). Why Arjun is not given a chance to bat at the nets is clearly shown, but what convinces the selectors to relent and pick him in the final playing eleven is not.

Again, why does Arjun shy away from the job of assistant coach, offered to him on a platter, which would probably pay more than the apparently paltry sum that he earns as a player, is beyond us. In one scene, an advocate, with a female colleague in tow, walks two steps ahead of Arjun while having a conversation with him and his friends, something that looks very odd. Social distancing, perhaps? One scene, where a Sikh man is introduced as Ardas Mann, is hilarious, what with his group of friends claiming that he was a great singer, although he was only one of four chorus singers in a hit Punjabi number. He was amazed that they could recognise him among the four voices and treats them to drinks and food! While all this is happening, the dialogue-writer duo Sidhharth-Garima contribute some nuggets and try to enliven the proceedings.

Inconsistent and impulsive, with an attitude and superego, Arjun Talwar is embodied in Shahid Kapur, who is now 41 and plays a 36 year-old (the film was to release 16 months ago, but the pandemic caused this inordinate delay). They will love his big-hitting cricket fan moments. It is the waster/loser/short-tempered/thieving/procrastinating man that is hard to play, especially when it comes after his testosterone driven torrid affair with Vidhya. Arjun usually pretends not to listen to the person talking to him, and then takes him/her by surprise with an outrageous remark or suggestion. This trait, whether it is built into the script or adopted by Shahid, works the first two or three times, and then begins to irritate. He does tug at your heart when he refuses to buy a duplicate Jersey at a peanut price, as advised by his pal, since he cannot afford the real thing. Another scene, by contrast, is both exhilarating and inducing tears of joy, when Arjun crosses a bridge, waits for a train to come, and shouts his heart out, at being selected for the team. It is an okay performance, slightly above par, not one to haunt our memories for years. Complementing him in the double-take style is Mrunal Thakur (age 29), alias Vidhya. She gives a broad grin almost every time the two are alone, and then gets down to serious business. Not ideally suited for torrid sex scenes, she holds her own in the house-wife avatar. One scene she does rather well is when Shahid’s ‘family’ comes over to ask for her hand, and Nana says no. She speaks to him in either Kannada or Telugu (their mother tongue) and gives him a piece of her mind. For once, language is no barrier. Though both Shahid and Mrunal are gifted actors, there isn’t enough chemistry to firstly convince you about their getting together, and consequently, not much justification about their drifting apart.

As assistant coach (his name is never clearly heard: Wali/Wahi/Walia?), Pankaj Kapur, senior Mr. Kapur is in his element. His clearly enunciated dialogue delivery is a treat, and among the other officials, sounds too good to be true. There are several scenes featuring father and son, wherein Arjun refers to the old man as his only family. In such scenes, Shahid usually has no eye-contact with real-life father Pankaj, making you wonder whether he is avoiding it. But later, when there is eye-contact, more than once, you can see that both are thorough professionals in their craft. Interestingly, the assistant coach is shown either eating from a lunch-box or talking, but never coaching. Ronit Kamra as Karan ‘Kittu’ Talwar is quite spontaneous, and reminds us of Master Alankar (Padmalankar Joshi in real-life), who was a popular child-star of the 60s. Geetika Mahendru is Jasleen Shergil, a sports writer, who writes the biography, Jersey, based on the life of Arjun Talwar. She is bubbly and impresses in a small role. One high point in the film is when Arjun takes her by surprise and kisses her on the cheek. Rituraj Singh as the main Selector of the Punjab team is a seasoned player, and goes through the motions, with a grim look and very little of acting required.

Going behind the camera, we find cinematographer Anil Mehta, editor Naveen Nooli and background music scorer Anirudh Ravichander. All have done a good job. With so much white (all uniforms) in the cricket matches, Mehta might have faced some colour issues. If we divide the film into four parts, it would be 1. The early career of Arjun and his romance with Vidhya. 2 his quitting cricket and his suspension 3. His return to the field and 4. The denouement. To condense all these parts into 2 hours and fifty minutes might have posed a challenge. Hence the frenetic cutting of the cricketing shots, which is chapter 3. But, in hindsight, one feels that it was the second chapter that needed to be crisper, thereby saving in length. As it is, the film is a good 20 minutes longer than it should be.

Jersey’s songs are composed by Sachet–Parampara, while the lyrics are written by Shellee. There are four songs, and they all came across as Punjabi. "Mehram" is sung by Sachet Tandon, "Maiyya Mainu" also by Sachet Tandon, "Baliye Re" by Sachet Tandon, Stebin Ben, Paramapara Tandon, Mellow D. and "Jind Meriye" by Sachet Tandon. All were soulful, but all sounded loud and somewhat similar to my ears.

While the cricket element is meant to pull in aficionados of the gentleman’s game, the rest of the film is designed to cater to family audiences. After all, some cinema-lovers might be paying Rs. 500 for a ticket to see a film in which there is so much happening around a Jersey that cost Rs. 500, albeit 30-40 years ago. Which reminds me: I must get myself a New Jersey, if I can afford one. Scoring 300 not out might be a delusional dream, but dressing in white, putting on the white Jersey, cricket shoes, pads, gloves, abdomen guard, thigh pad, forearm guard and a helmet, and holding a bat is attainable. Under all this, age doesn’t show, and I might even get a few comments like, ‘Smart Boy’.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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