Film: "Jeeva"; Cast: Vishnu Vishal, Sri Divya, Soori, T. Siva, Lakshman Narayan, Charlie and Arya; Director: Suseenthiran; Rating: ***
A young boy, who is a passionate cricketer, frequents a sports shop in his neighbourhood so many times that he knows the price of every bat stacked up on the shelf. And when he finally buys a cricket bat from the same store, the courteous owner offers him a discount because he's been his loyal customer.
In another scene, the same boy gets punished by his teacher for playing cricket in classroom, and in retaliation he pulls a prank on him with his friends. They get expelled for their stunt and as they're made to stand outside, he still thinks about playing cricket.
These memorable scenes in the first half of Suseenthiran's "Jeeva" introduce us to the story of Jeeva, an aspiring cricketer and the environment he's growing up in. He's surrounded by a father who is still grieving his wife's death and hence, is drunk mostly, neighbours who look after him as though he's their own and a society that switches off television sets the moment Sachin Tendulkar (cricket maestro) is dismissed in a match.
As promoted by the makers, "Jeeva" is the story of a cricketer and not just about the sport. There's more action and melodrama off the field than on it. Suseenthiran takes a dig at the selection committee of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association that has only been favouring players from a certain community. It's about a sport versus politics story told from the perspective of the minority.
A lot of pertinent questions are raised in the film, which never attempts to be controversial despite addressing a very sensitive issue. Without naming any players, "Jeeva" reminds us that 80 percent of Tamil Nadu players who've played for the country belong to a certain community. And the stats are astonishingly true. While pointing fingers at the community, Suseenthiran very intelligently brings the talent angle to keep the tone of comparison very neutral.
"Jeeva" is gripping with a moving second half, but not as inspiring as Nagesh Kukunoor's Bollywood film "Iqbal". The problem being it focuses on a romantic track that completely acts as a spoilsport. Suseenthiran's desperate act to portray his film as a commercial entertainer and not as a sports-drama doesn't go down too well. It somehow distracts you from the film's core subject and that's a big letdown. If only these crucial comprises were handled with care, the film would've been highly satisfying.
Vishnu, who has played Ranji level cricket before becoming an actor, fits into the titular effortlessly. He shines as a cricketer, but not as much as a lover boy in the first half. The cricket sequences are very realistically executed, but for a few shots involving graphics. Suseenthiran uses the friendship angle in the story quite well and although it reaches a predictable end, it still touches your heart.
The director has a knack for turning his stories around in the post-interval session, and he does it here too extremely well. He opens the film with a scene that features Vishnu narrating his story as a cricketer, which at that point seemed very cliched, but by the time the film reaches its climax you're pleasantly surprised. His subtle twists at some crucial junctures of the film are a treat to watch.
"Jeeva" is a tribute to all the passionate cricket players who have failed without ever getting an opportunity to prove their mettle. It's the story of passion versus politics.