The first six episodes of the cricket-themed Netflix Indian original series Selection Day were released roughly four months ago. Just when the coming-of-age drama started to get interesting, it came to a halt, returning on Friday with the concluding six episodes.
An adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2016 book of the same name, Selection Day follows teenaged siblings Radha (Yash Dholye) and Manju (Mohammad Samad), whose father (Rajesh Tailang) has made it his life’s mission to make them cricket champions. Manager, coach and puppeteer, Mohan Kumar charts out a path for his sons that involves uprooting them from their home in a Madhya Pradesh village, transporting them to Mumbai and making sure that not a waking minute is spent doing anything cricket-unrelated.
On the field and at home, Manju is Champion Number 2, meant to play a supporting role in his brother’s rise. But in the book and the show, he is the protagonist, a boy whose immense cricketing talent is matched by his dislike for the game, a dichotomy that reaches breaking point when his move to the big city allows him access to new passions and interests.
The show’s first installment, directed by Udayan Prasad, did little beyond establishing the characters and teasing out the various strands of the story. The second part, with Karan Boolani as director, is an improvement on the first, mostly because the pieces come together as Manju and Radha race towards the eponymous selection day, when the fates of thousands of aspiring cricketers aspirants will be sealed and just a handful will be picked for the Under-16 Mumbai cricket team.
Adiga’s novel challenges the sports drama convention by focusing on a protagonist who hates the game and struggles to come to terms with his sexual orientation. When Manju meets Javed (Karanvir Malhotra), his schoolmate and rival at the Weinberg Academy, he is also drawn to him. The wealthy and confident Javed is a foil to Manju, and their mutual attraction manifests through open hostility, stormy conversations and covert longing.
This conflict, a compelling mix of testosterone, pheromones and other hormones that drive teenage angst, got short shrift in the first part of the series. The second part doesn’t do justice to it either. As Manju and Javed’s tumultuous dynamic is pushed inside the closet, Netflix’s Selection Day instead opts for more on-the-nose drama in the form of fires, brawls, goons and villains.
The series also gives elaborate sub-plots to supporting characters. One such supporting player is Anand Mehta (Karan Oberoi), a businessman who offers to sponsor the siblings in a larger attempt to take over the plot on which Weinberg stands. Much time is wasted on the character, developing him as a quasi-villain when Manju has enough inner demons to contend with and a real-life antagonist in his father.
School coach Tommy Sir (Mahesh Manjrekar) also gets an ailing wife and a controversial past added to his storyline, though his more interesting contribution to the series is as an alternative father figure to the boys. Other characters, including Ratna Pathak Shah’s school principal and a physical manifestation of a deity that Manju prays to, played by Shiv Pandit, also get some unnecessary moments that take away from the countdown to selection day.
Non-readers of the novel may find it hard to make sense of the rapid escalation of events and emotions as the key players reach breaking point. Manju’s angst, his attempts at rebellion and his push-and-pull relationship with Javed seem lacking in context, as do Radha’s outbursts. The series ends up unfolding as a series of moments without adequate foregrounding.
Where Selection Day scores is in its performances (Tailang, in particular, accomplishes the feat of making Mohan Kumar more than a cardboard villain), the interpersonal dynamics between Radha-Manju, the siblings and their father and Manju-Javed, and the lesson that parenting is not a zero-sum game, where a father’s will must override the desires and ambitions of his offspring.
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