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.