Shahid Kapoor in 'Jersey;
Shahid Kapoor in 'Jersey' Image Credit: Supplied

Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor loathes the word ‘loser’ and finds that description soul-crushingly reductive.

And, he has channeled that outrage into his upcoming film ‘Jersey’, out in the UAE cinemas on April 22. The film's release date saw multiple changes in release dates after producers took the call to postpone the film amid health and safety concerns last December.

‘Jersey’ is the faithful Hindi-language adaptation of superstar Nani’s National Award-winning 2019 Telugu film of the same name, and shines the spotlight on a fading cricketer and doting dad in his late 30s who has never caught a good break in life or sports.

“This film celebrates everything that doesn’t get celebrated,” said Kapoor in a Zoom video call with Gulf News ahead of his film’s release.

“We always celebrate those people who are standing on a podium or those people who have achieved something. But I think there’s something worth celebrating in everyone who’s striving in life,” he added.

Kapoor claims that he had a ‘bit of an emotional breakdown’ when he saw the celebrated original film.

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Telugu star Nani in the original film Image Credit: IMdB

“I don’t like to use that word ‘loser’ because it’s not a nice word, especially for this character … It’s a very negative word and we should stop using that word in general because what’s the definition of a loser or a winner? And who decides which category you fall into?… This film is trying to break that stereotype,” said Kapoor.

In the trailer of this film set in the 1990s, Kapoor plays an emasculated husband whose cricketing dreams are dashed at the altar of domestic harmony and life, but his young son harbours the same dreams of being a cricketer as his defeated father. The young boy yearns for a sporting jersey, but his father somehow doesn’t have the heft to provide that for his son and that piece of clothing becomes symbolic of his inadequacies as a father and person.

In another telling scene in the trailer, Kapoor’s character is caught stealing from his own harried wife Vidya, played by actress Mrunal Thakur, who seems to be primary breadwinner of the house. She has become bitter and hardened over time. Their respect and love for each other seems to have eroded.

“Vidya is someone who’s truly practical. She’s got responsibilities and she’s got a kid and all she wants is some support from her husband … And any relationship needs that appreciation. But when your husband or your partner or your boyfriend doesn’t take any effort or doesn’t appreciate that you are contributing so much to this relationship, it gets on your nerves and that’s what Vidya is going through,” said Thakur in the same Zoom video call. Her inability to nudge her idealistic husband to be pragmatic creates deep fissures in their relationship.

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Mrunal Thakur and Shahid Kapoor in 'Jersey' Image Credit: Supplied

“She just wants her husband to be practical in order to support the family and take care of the house. That’s all she wants. But eventually ‘Jersey’ is a beautiful story even though it gets a little toxic,” said Thakur. But the moment the dreaded T word in today’s cancel and woke culture was uttered, her co-star Kapoor cautioned her to use that word sparingly.

“The story is based in the 1990s where this commonly-used word wasn’t relevant … I would say they felt claustrophobic,” said Kapoor. The two stars seem to have found a certain rhythm that comes only when having worked together for a passion project. ‘Jersey’ is their collective ambition.

Interestingly, both Kapoor and Thakur had different sets of reservations when it came to this project. Kapoor, whose popularity soared after the release ‘Kabir Singh’ (a Bollywood remake of Telugu blockbuster ‘Arjun Reddy’), said he wasn’t keen on doing another South Indian film adaptation.

Shahid Kapoor in 'Kabir Singh', Bollywood's answer to Telugu blockbuster 'Arjun Reddy' Image Credit: Supplied

‘Kabir Singh’ remains one of Bollywood’s most polarising films with many panning it as deeply problematic and misogynistic. Even though it was a blockbuster, Kapoor’s role was accused of glorifying an entitled, toxic male who couldn’t handle a rocky break-up in medical college. He was celebrated and crucified as an artist in the same measure.

“The last thing on my mind was to do another remake and it’s not something that I wanted to do. But this story of ‘Jersey’ stayed with me and I felt a connection with him deeply. I wanted to take this story to a wider audience and I wanted people to experience and feel how I felt. I felt inspired, humbled and human,” said Kapoor.

For his co-star, her challenges were to understand a woman like Vidya who wasn’t very supportive of her husband’s dreams and aspirations. She wasn’t invested in him picking a bat, as much as she’s invested in him bringing in some dough.

“Every relationship and every couple goes through ups and downs in their life … At first I was thinking like a woman in living in the 2020s, but I had to keep reminding myself that I play a character from 1986/1990 … My perspective and perception of their problems are so different … It’s the first time in my career that I play a character that’s ‘hatke’ [different] and not supportive of her partner,” said Thakur.

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Mrunal Thakur and Shahid Kapoor in 'Jersey' Image Credit: Supplied

Both describe their latest tale as an uplifting story. ‘Jersey’ is the second cricketing drama to hit the theatres this month. Last week, Ranveer Singh’s ’83, a true-life cricketing triumph drama chronicling India’s win in the 1983 World Cup in London was served to an army of movie-mad and cricket-crazy Indians worldwide. But ‘Jersey’ isn’t cut from that same cloth, and their back-to-back releases are purely a coincidence, claims Kapoor. The global pandemic did a number on all of them.

“‘83’ was all about a beautiful moment in cricketing history and I wish them all the best. It has some wonderful actors … But these two films were never supposed to release next to each other. But the theatres were shut down for over two years, and once it opened up a lot of money and people’s work was at stake … Everybody is insecure in the fraternity about their product turning irrelevant. Everybody is anxious,” said Kapoor.

Ranveer Singh in '83'
Ranveer Singh in '83 Image Credit: Supplied

He has hit the nail on the head. Anxiety is an-all pervasive sentiment that seems to be overwhelming the entertainment industry worldwide amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bollywood has unwittingly become collateral damage with revenue losses amounting to billions and a backlog of ready films that have no window for theatrical releases.

“So, unfortunately films are coming close to each other. I don’t think anybody wanted that kind of clash … But both these films are going to be a very different experience. ‘Jersey’, our film, is a human drama set against a sporting backdrop. It’s such a relatable story which has moments that will appeal to everybody,” said Kapoor.

It isn’t a simple stirring father-son tale or a husband who isn’t able to understand where his wife comes from.

“It reflects the aspirations of an Indian man based in the 90s. It reminded me of my father and reminded me of my family and my parents that I look up to tremendously. I have seen them struggle … The relationship between the husband and wife in this film also reminded me of these couples who look so happy, but they have seen so much together … It brought back all those memories,” said Kapoor.

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Shahid Kapoor who plays a defeated fading cricketer in 'Jersey' Image Credit: Supplied

While his words sound heartening, sporting dramas with a strong emotional thread in Bollywood are notorious for being manipulative and stagey. But ‘Jersey’ doesn’t pull at that thread, promised Kapoor.

“But which part of cinema is not manipulative? How can a director make a film if doesn’t choose to make the audience feel a certain way? That’s the craft … When we tell a story, we want everyone to go through a certain emotional experience and if the story is honest and the performances come from an honest place, how is that manipulative. It’s representative of a certain scenario,” said Kapoor.

The actor defines Bollywood films as a sacrosanct zone where emotions trump logic. ‘Jersey’ in which he plays a 30-something man still harbouring ambitions of reviving his cricketing career despite bills mounting is a perfect example of that, believes Kapoor.

“That’s why our cinema is larger-than-life … Is it appropriate for him to have this kind of unreasonable dream from his past? Kapoor asked. “Certain things can’t play out in your normal life, but you can experience them on the big screen … Get ready for the most emotionally uplifting tale.”

We will hold him to that promise.

Don't Miss It!

'Jersey' is out in the UAE cinemas on April 22

Did you know?

Shahid Kapoor’s father and seasoned actor Pankaj Kapur also plays a role in ‘Jersey’.

Fun facts:
Shahid Kapoor jokes that there were times when he felt like stealing from his wife’s wallet. Apparently, during his recent visit to the UAE to film a project, he was at a mall and he got excited at the thought of shopping again and was wondering if he should pocket her cash.
“But that’s not the same as stealing money from your wife to buy your child a jersey,” joked Kapoor