Jersey celebrates the journey, not the prize, says Shahid Kapoor

The Bollywood actor is back on screen with an inspirational sports drama this weekend.



Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied
by

Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Tue 28 Dec 2021, 9:58 AM

Last updated: Tue 28 Dec 2021, 10:02 AM

On December 30, a day before New Year’s Eve, Bollywood’s most versatile actor Shahid Kapoor is ready to set the silver screen on fire with the much-awaited Jersey.

The movie is a Hindi-language sports drama film written and directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, an adaptation of his 2019 Telugu film of the same title starring Nani and Shraddha Srinath. Kapoor plays the role of Arjun; a failed yet talented cricketer who returns to the sport in his 30s to fulfil his son’s wish for a jersey as a gift. Kapoor stars opposite Mrunal Thakur, and he also shares screen space with his father, Pankaj Kapur, in the film.

City Times caught up with the actors of the Bollywood sports drama last week.

Here are some excerpts from a quick and delightful conversation over video call with Kapoor and his co-star Thakur before it was abruptly cut short by an over-enthusiastic public relations professional.

Jersey is an adaption of a Telugu movie. How did you give your spin to the characters to appeal to a Hindi movie audience?

Kapoor: I appreciate that you used the word adaptation instead of a remake because when you make a film, it is crucial for it to be relevant to the audience you make it for. To appeal to a Hindi-speaking audience, you need to make several adaptations to the subject in terms of the cultural pathos you choose to base it in. We decided to take Jersey to Punjab and set it in the 1990s and the 1980s.

The older portion is based in the ’90s, and the younger part is set in the 1980s. For example, a typical Punjabi male asking his wife for Rs500 in the 1990s is a huge deal. But, for a guy living in Mumbai, asking his wife for Rs5,000 is totally cool right now.

Not in the 90s it wasn’t. We could go to our parents back then, and they would understand how that felt. We made choices like these to make it more relevant to a Hindi-speaking audience.

Fundamentally, the film revolves around several inter-personal relationships and the sport that the film depicts - all of this gives the movie a universal appeal. I felt that this subject could travel. Moreover, I appreciated the way the director treated the film. I could relate to the sensibility of the filmmaker’s vision. There were moments when the director threw emotions very hard at it, but we found a sweet spot where it was not underplayed or overplayed, and it was pretty natural.

What is it about Arjun, the protagonist, that stood out for you the most?

Kapoor: I felt playing this role would be great for me as an actor after I’d made Kabir Singh, another Telugu film adaptation. I’d played an alcoholic college boy and an overall dysfunctional character. However, Jersey celebrates the ‘everyman’ who has nothing prima facie, nothing that jumps out, nothing that’s charismatic, and nothing outstanding. This is something on the lines of ‘handsome is what handsome does.’

The film celebrates efforts and not just the prize; it celebrates the journey regardless of the result. That, for me, is very inspiring. That’s why I felt this subject would travel irrespective of the language.

Why did the movie take two years to make? Did Covid play spoilsport? Also, did it help that it took this long?

Kapoor: Yes. Covid did impact the shoot. We’d shot about 48 days of the film when we had to stop because of Covid. We’d completed about 70 per cent of the older portion and hadn’t even touched the younger part. Seven months later, we resumed with the more youthful bit simply because everyone looked so different from how they were when we were shooting the original.

Mrunal: Also, Shahid injured himself. He had a crazy number of stitches after he busted his lip mid-shoot.

Kapoor: We lost a couple of months when I busted my lip. It took a month-and-a-half for it to look normal again, and then Covid happened. But all that additional time did not help. I enjoy immersing myself in a film and getting out of it. It’s the most challenging thing to hold on to the finer nuances of your character for such a long time when you are so disconnected from the film world altogether. People struggled to get back to their daily routines after life came back to some form of ordinary; To come back to a film set where we have a different, constrained way of working. A huge challenge was not letting these restrictions enter our way between action and cut in front of the camera.

Shahid, you play a father in the movie, which is a big part of the character arc. Did being a father, yourself help prepare you for the role in any way?

Kapoor: All of it helped. I have a very emotional side to me when it comes to my children. The story of the film hit me hard. There’s a dialogue in the movie, which is also in the trailer, that loosely translates into: ‘If I remain this way, my greatest fear is that even my son would think of me as a loser. I will not let my impression fall even one centimetre in his eyes; whatever it takes, I would do’. That hit home so hard.

You also share space with your dad (Pankaj Kapur) in Jersey. What was that like?

Kapoor: It always is so scary sharing space with him because he is so good. He is so good in such a quiet way. Many actors one works with make a lot of noise about their craft and abilities. They like to throw their weight around. My father is so humble and quiet, and he does some magic in this film, which makes you wonder about your capabilities.

Do you see any remarkable change in post-pandemic cinema and the kind of scripts you are reading now?

Thakur: Covid was a blessing in disguise. On OTT platforms, you had some unique content coming out, which brought in a lot of opportunities for actors. Right now, the definition of a commercial and artistic film is changing. The audience is getting smarter. People want to watch relatable cinema that has been great for the industry.

Kapoor: The coronavirus has been very oppressive and introspective at the same time. I think it’s been a time where we’ve learnt not to keep ourselves busy and look within and around the people close to us. That kind of social change will significantly impact people’s choices. Society has changed, and because cinema reflects society, we have to see what kind of cinema people would like to see in the time to come.

WHAT DREW MRUNAL THAKUR TO JERSEY

“When I first watched the movie, I was inspired by how the emotions were dealt with. It had been a long time since I’d seen a movie that had made me so emotional, and I wanted to be part of the project from that very moment onwards. It was a little difficult for me to get into Vidya’s (Mrunal’s character) shoes because, given the era we’d based the movie on, the thought processes were so different. My character is married with a kid, and it was difficult for me to create a bond with a child.

“The most exciting thing about this film is the journey of the character. We shot the movie backwards; we did the older version first and went back to the younger one. That helped me get acclimatised with the character. The tension she shares with Arjun, for example. Vidya is a very practical girl, and I’m an emotional cutlet. I felt guilty for the dynamics they shared.

“Also, I am pleased that I had such excellent reference material, but I was given the freedom to perform the character in my way.”

Kapoor adds; “During the shoot, she would ask me, why am I so mean to you, in this film. I would say to her, ‘Bro, stay in character. You don’t have to agree with me.’ (laughs).”


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