Film: “Jersey”; Language: Telugu; Director: Gowtam Tinnanuri; Cast: Nani and Shraddha Srinath; Rating: ***
“Jersey” opens with a bearded 40-ish Nani running after a girl at a bookshop with a copy of a book that she wasn’t able to get .
“Are you stalking us?” the girl’s friend asks, not unreasonably.
The opening scene, filled with an overdose of what the mush lovers call the cutesies, sums up the film that is neither great nor small, neither short, nor tall. It just about serves the purpose of providing its superstar hero Nani a platform to display his range on the subtle side of the street.
And Nani, like Naga Chaitanya in the Tamil film “Majili” a week ago, is not afraid to play a loser. He plays Arjun, a man meant to be a national-level cricketer who ends up being a failure as a professional and a husband, but is determined to be a success as a father.
It is an impressively seductive premise for our hero to shine through scenes that call attention to his character’s failings. Heroes never did that in the past.
Yup, this cinema signals a change in the way we look at the alpha male in cinema. There is a clear unapologetic bias, in a good way, in the way the film focuses on Arjun’s bonding with his 7-year-old son Nani (Ronit Kamra), while the woman Sarah(Shraddha Srinath), the unhappy wife and the worried mother, in their life is sidelined.
Beyond the sulking and pouting, we never know what Sarah goes through being in a relationship where the husband is a failure, while their marriage is not. The plot is way too taken up with building up the hero’s angst-quotient, portraying him as a much-misunderstood hero, to let the other characters breathe freely.
And that includes the ever-dependable Sathyaraj, who plays the cricket coach with a reined-in sensitivity, the kind that competent actors exercise in underwritten roles.
Nani and young Kamra play their scenes together with a reasonable amount of conviction. But again, these scenes are constructed all too obviously to spotlight the leading man as a “cool” Dad.
The film is far too consciously designed to be a heart-tugger to exude the kind of unselfconscious frisson that, say, Shekhar Kapur generated between Naseeruddin Shah and his screen-son Jugal Hansraj in “Masoom”.
Most selfconscious of all is the background score, which oscillates between the tender and the amused, depending on whether the sequence is meant to be sensitive or funny.
Arjun’s friends drop in for cards and drinks when his wife is away: light music.
Arjun makes out with Sara in the green room while an important cricket match is on: light music. Sara’s father refuses to let his daughter marry a man from a “different religion”: light music.
In spite of too many instances of the narrative leading us into the ‘light’, “Jersey” has its heart in the right place. We know we are being manipulated into acknowledging mush when the little boy gives his mother a birthday card with “happy birthday” misspelt on it. But that’s okay.
Sometimes being led up the garden path is not a bad thing. Not when there’s hope and love and happiness at the end of that path.