Director Gowtam Tinnanuri’s mobile hasn’t stopped ringing from the last couple of days. He has been flooded with congratulatory messages and high words of praise from the film fraternity and his friends alike after his second film Jersey released to unanimously positive responses at the theatres earlier this week. Starring Nani, Shraddha Srinath, and Sathyaraj in the lead roles, the sports drama chronicles the sparkling return of a 36-year-old man Arjun into professional cricket, who rises above several crests and troughs, some personal and some professional, during his journey. Incidentally, the filmmaker, who had earlier directed the romantic drama Malli Raava, too has successfully conquered the second-film hurdle to prove his mettle as a director. “I think it’ll take at least a week’s time for the success to sink in,” the filmmaker starts off.

In fact, Jersey was one of the earliest scripts that the filmmaker had written and one that was closest to his heart. Given the monumental scale that a film like Jersey would demand, he’d chosen a lighter subject like Malli Raava to commence his career and establish his worth. The leap from his first success to Jersey has been huge by many standards, including the scale, casting, and execution. “I think (doing Malli Raava first) it was a practical decision too. The story of Jersey had germinated three years ago when I was watching a speech that Harsha Bhogle gave at IIM Ahmedabad. He was discussing that there were many Tendulkars in terms of cricketing talent in the country but stated that it was his attitude that made the cut for a successful career. More than Sachin, I was keen on exploring what the other cricketers who couldn’t make it to that stage would have gone through,” Gowtam says.

  Working fathers have a different bond with their children in comparison with the non-working fathers. We thought an equation between a non-working father and a son would be different because, such fathers stay at home through the day and are more hands-on with their children’s lives. It also isn’t a usual sight to see a non-working father and a working mother in cinema. 

Also Read: Sankeertana Varma’s Review of Majili 

Interestingly enough, each of the Telugu releases (including Majili, Chitralahari, and Jersey) in the last three weeks have explored the journey of protagonists who’re written off as a failure by the society. It’s a clear case of coincidence, Gowtam insists. “And I’m happy that people are resonating with such stories. In our society, we have more people who fail than succeed and need the motivation that every time is a good time to keep trying. Stories like these are instrumental in providing hope. We come across so many people on a daily basis who’re inspirational figures, with or without achieving success in their careers. This is my ode to them.”

Jersey isn’t any other regular sports-drama for many reasons. Among the foremost of them is the detailing with regard to the game. Be it the highs and lows of a cricketer’s journey, the team-spirit they possess, their daily rigmarole, fitness, and the selection criteria, the nuances perfectly embellish the narrative.  Gowtam, justifying why the film could rise above the sports-drama stereotype, says, “I think I understand cricket better than any other sport. I watch cricket more than I play and I understand the various factors that drive the sport and the life of a sportsperson. Even in the film, the situations involving the game, both on and off the field, were treated like regular scenes and not like a mere combination of shots. The emotions were conveyed through the sport, be it running between the wickets, fielding, the boundaries or the fall of wickets. These aspects provided the right context to the story and ensured an organic flow of the sequences.”

Besides the sport, Jersey is as much about the poignant father-son equation. Their relationship is shorn of regular cinematic liberties, and the conversations have a very lifelike quality to them. Gowtam, in response, states, “Working fathers have a different bond with their children in comparison with the non-working fathers. We thought an equation between a non-working father and a son would be different because, such fathers stay at home through the day and are more hands-on with their children’s lives. It also isn’t a usual sight to see a non-working father and a working mother in cinema. So, the role reversal was a key element that lent freshness to the narrative.”

Also Read: The Review of Jersey

That’s also a reason why the female protagonist Sarah, played by Shraddha Srinath in Jersey isn’t your quintessential doting mother. She’s the only earning member of the family that’s financially unstable and it’s natural that her personal turmoil is reflected through her erratic behaviour. “We had to portray her mood swings because she’s also gone through a painstaking journey with Arjun. We were fortunate to have Shraddha, an intelligent actress who always understood the purpose behind the story,” Gowtam feels.

Having a lead actor like Nani, who surrenders himself to a role minus any starry trappings helped his cause. “Whenever I think of Nani, I only think of the characters he’s played. I admire him for that. I basically wanted him in Jersey for his acting skills and but what he contributed to the film beyond it, has proved to be instrumental in the film’s outcome.” A lot of appreciation has been showered on Nani’s on-screen son Ronit Kamra, a Delhi lad, who was reportedly a bundle of energy on sets. “He was the most active actor during the night shoots and was known for his pranks on sets. He used to snatch the mic and sneak into a cupboard. Our energies were basically invested in controlling his enthusiasm,” Gowtam smiles.

Gowtam in Jersey pays homage to one of his favourite film characters, Babu Moshai (played by Rajesh Khanna) from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand through the line ‘Zindagi lambi nahi, badi honi chahiye’. “I thought the line conveys the spirit of the film without sounding too heavy. The film is about a late-bloomer, a dreamer who is driven by hope. Babu Moshai’s life, I thought had many similarities to Arjun’s role,” he adds, without throwing in any spoilers. Another personal inference from his life to Jersey was the book launch sequence, that highlights the importance of documenting the lives of achievers in the printed form. “I’m an avid reader and understand the inspirational value it provides. This rubbed onto the film too.”

The two-film-old filmmaker has certain tropes that are common to his both outings. One, his love for a narrative spread across different timelines and the other, his nostalgic tone in revisiting the 1980s and 90s era. “With Malli Raava I could say these tropes were intentionally done, but for Jersey, it certainly wasn’t the case. I have written many scripts that don’t have these tropes too. You should hopefully see them soon,” Gowtam states. The filmmaker has already received a couple of offers to remake Jersey in multiple languages. “I’m yet to take a call on it. There’s too much going on in my mind. Let me a take a break and come back to it,” he laughs.

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