Selection Day Review: Netflix’s New Show Lacks Consistency, Depth and Women
Based on Aravind Adiga’s novel, Selection Day is the story of two teen brothers trapped in the mad obsession of their compulsive father. Read our review of Netflix’s latest show here.
Selection Day’s poster featuring Yash Dholye and Mohammad Samad. (Image: Instagram/Netflix India)
After its last offering Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle that had a big budget and an illustrious cast, Netflix’s latest Indian original Selection Day feels like a Christmas party. Only there is no Santa or a Christmas tree.
Based on Aravind Adiga’s eponymous novel, it is the story of two teen brothers—Radha and Manju—trapped in the mad obsession of their compulsive father, who treats them as his ticket out of poverty and dreams of making them the world’s best batsmen.
In tracing Radha and Manju’s journey from their village in Madhya Pradesh to becoming star cricketers of a Mumbai school, the first season of Selection Day touches upon several pressing issues—parental pressure, domestic violence, India’s cricket craze, the urban-rural divide, unashamed commercialisation of education, teen angst and homosexuality. But in trying to show it all, it spreads itself too thin, thus failing to create any real impact.
Right from the first scene, it is established that Radha—the elder brother played by debutant Yash Dholye—is to be the best batsman in the world. The younger Manju is always referred to as Batsman No 2 by their father. Not that he minds, he is not interested in the sport anyway. He is a science guy. But the little detail adeptly shows how deep our parents’ biases can get rooted in our psyche and how we internalise them without knowing it, believing them to be true.
Mohammad Samad is in terrific form as Manju, the conflicted, sensitive younger brother who pines for his mother and wants to study but is forced to play cricket. After starring in Tumbbad and Haraamkhor, Selection Day solidifies Samad’s presence as a young actor of tremendous potential.
And it’s not just him, one of the best things about the show is its casting. There is Ratna Pathak Shah as Mrs. Weinberg, a feisty principal fighting a lost battle to save her school—the last living memory of her dead husband—from corporatisation. There is also Mahesh Manjrekar, who plays Tommy Sir, a closeted cricket coach with a murky past and an unrealised dream to train a legend. And finally, there is Rajesh Tailang as the boys’ eccentric father who will stop at nothing to make them what he wants them to be.
However, much like Tailang’s character, Selection Day wants too much too soon and has little patience. Though the narrative’s pace is slow, the scenes jump context. For instance, Javed Ansari (played by debutant Karanvir Malhotra) is shown as the city snob, the school hero who is at loggerheads with the village boys and considers them trash. But then one afternoon, out of nowhere, he is vulnerable and craving for Manju’s attention, which leads to the two of them having a moment a scene later. And just like that, their equation turns from inconsequential to delicate within two scenes, making it look forced and jarring.
Another example is Radha’s indifference towards his mother’s whereabouts. Though he is the confident kind that draws penis on their opponent’s bat to get back at them, the show does nothing to contextualise his utter disregard for his mother’s wellbeing.
Selection Day is a story of cricket and male ambition, and hence has no female characters of any real importance (not in the first season at least) other than Shah’s Mrs Weinberg. How lamentably predictable. Adiga’s book can be blamed for it but how much could it have hurt an adaptation to digress a bit to be more inclusive and interesting?
Cricket also serves largely as the backdrop with no standout moments, which shall be a major disappointment for Indian viewers especially, who are used to watching heightened sports dramas like Lagaan and Iqbal.
With six episodes of 20 minutes each, the first season essentially lays out the premise and introduces the characters. The field is set, the audience waiting, the players ready. Now all they have to do is deliver.
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