In 2019, Gowtam Tinnanuri wrote and directed the Telugu sports drama Jersey, starring Nani as Arjun. Tinnanuri has now directed the Hindi language remake, with Shahid Kapoor taking the crease as the erstwhile star of Punjab and Duleep Trophy batsman Arjun Talwar. Mrunal Thakur plays his wife, Vidya, and Ronit Kamra transitions from Telugu to Hindi to once again play Arjun’s young son, Ketan.
The 174-minute movie opens in 2022 with the launch of a book titled “Jersey”. A young man named Ketan is buying the last copy from a bookstore. He tells some girls who are disappointed to miss out on a copy that the man on the cover is his father. The story dials back to the mid-1980s and then ahead 10 years.
When he loses out on a team India spot, 26-year-old Arjun dramatically and suddenly hangs up his helmet and swears off the sport. He takes up a government job and dedicates his life to his son. Ten years later, a false corruption charge has led to his suspension from work and a complete dependence on Vidya’s earnings. Their modest existence and his lack of income prevent Arjun from fulfilling his son’s plea for a birthday gift. Ketan wants an India jersey, but Arjun doesn't have Rs. 500 for it.
Arjun needs to get a life, but he’s inert. He spends all day watching cricket on television, wasting time with his buddies and neglects important household chores. He comes alive only when he’s interacting with his seven-year-old son. Ketan’s incessant request for an Indian cricket jersey propels Arjun out of his stupor and back onto the pitch where he decides to pursue an unrealised dream. His mentor and coach (a buoyant Pankaj Kapur), who describes Arjun as the best batsman he has ever encountered, pushes along the 36-year-old.
The father-son story plays out against the backdrop of cricket but in the age of T20 and ODIs, Jersey feels like a test-match length movie that doesn’t miss any opportunity to emotionally manipulate. The cricketing action is well designed and expertly executed, though the core relationship becomes secondary to the cricketing action, which is padded up with sporting rivalry, ambition, suspense and over-used match commentary. Arjun is also remarkably in shape for a 36-year-old who hasn’t focussed on fitness for a decade. And one does wonder about the team’s medical and fitness testing parameters.
Expansive storytelling and much moping by a self-pitying Arjun dilute the poignant themes of Tinnanuri’s story—including Arjun’s aspirations and psychological issues. The husband-wife relationship is the most complex and also flummoxing as Vidya swings from champion of Arjun’s sporting ambitions to non-believer. Exaggerations abound when Arjun and Vidya clash. However, Mrunal Thakur is steady as the wife and mother, even when the script unfairly tilts against Vidya.
For all its peaks and troughs, Kapoor plays the cricketer with swagger, with elegant square cuts and lofty sweeps, and brings in pathos as the father who knows time is not on his side.