A film has stayed true to its soul if it replays in your mind long after you’ve left the theatre. In most parts, Jeeva does that. Suseenthiran, who nailed the sports genre in Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu , now explores cricket and the community politics that scar the game.
Jeeva (Vishnu Vishal), a motherless boy from a middle-class family and ardent Sachin fan, aspires to become a cricketer. Can he beat the odds? On paper, that’s what Jeeva is all about. But a delicious yet distracting love story also plays out in the background, with fond glances, furtive intimacies, tender smiles and temporary heartbreak. You’re as drenched in love as Jeeva and Jenny (Sri Divya) are when they stroll under a gentle drizzle to D. Imman’s lilting ‘Ovvondraai Thirudigiraai’. This must be one of the more romantic songs on screen this year. All credit to cinematographer Madhie.
But these sequences prevent the film from hurtling into cricket action. Jeeva banks on numbers to make a point — 14 of 16 people who’ve represented the country from Tamil Nadu are from one community. The movie, narrated in flashback, is packed with delightful ambience — from the bustle of a middle-class neighbourhood to the two houses the hero calls home to the action on the field. The young Jeeva does not ask his father for a cricket ball but the akka next door. As an adult, when the heroine asks him for sugar, he runs to the neighbour’s house. He knows their kitchen better!
The movie is packed with slice-of-life moments — like standing in a sports shop looking yearningly at everything even when it’s just a five-rupee rubber ball you want! When Jeeva’s best friend Ranjith (Lakshman) takes a body blow in his career and his mother hears of it, she silently lies down next to him, patting him in consolation. When Jeeva finally makes it, he doesn't laugh but does the only thing he knows — runs around the field, fists pumping the air, tears coursing down his face.
Santhosh’s dialogues are crisp and meaningful. On the field, you feel every drop of sweat, every disappointment, exhilaration and moment of levity (thanks to Soori) because the actors have given their all. It helps that both Vishnu and Lakshman are cricketers in real life too.
Adhithya, who plays the young Jeeva, endears himself with his mischievous eyes. Vishnu is one of those rare young actors who can slip into character without a care for the camera. Sri Divya ( Varuthapadatha Vaalibar Sangam ) is in fine form. Charlie shines as the father-figure; wonder why Tamil cinema has utilised him so sparingly. Ruben’s editing is top-class, especially the scene where Jeeva scores a century and the next shot pans in to his math marks: 7/100!
Just one question: given this lovely script, why did Suseenthiran insert speedbreakers like the ‘bar’ dance and a second duet? Despite that, towards the climax, the audience cheers every ball that flies into the stands, despite knowing it’s just a film. And that is Jeeva ’s success.