Selection Day Review: A middling start to a long innings

Selection Day, Netflix’s latest offering for its Indian audiences, is based on Aravind Adiga’s book by the same name. However, it is also one of those rare adaptations that isn’t a photocopy of the original. Selection Day, the series, takes only the characters from the book (it adds a few more as well) and gives them a new twist; sort of like creating a new dish with the same ingredients. If you have read the book, fret not, you will still be fascinated (in fact, more than those who are new to this story) by the version Marston Bloom has created for the streaming platform.

Selection Day is based on something that is part of pretty much every Indian’s life — cricket. Either you love the game or you know someone who loves it; there is no escaping cricket in this country. And with a story that revolves around two young boys who aspire to make it big in cricket, Netflix seems to have picked a story that cannot go wrong. And as a character puts it, “Kahani mein dhum toh hai…” But…

Director: Udayan Prasad
Cast: Ratna Pathak, Mahesh Manjrekar, Rajesh Tailang

The first season of Selection Day has six episodes of roughly 20 minutes each, and what it does is tease you with an introduction of the characters and their objectives. Not surprising, considering the narrative begins 162 days before the Selection Day, and ends 50 days after it. There are several intriguing threads that are intertwined in this tale — an arrogant, large-for-his-shoes father who shoves his dreams down the throats of his sons; a son who accepts his father’s dream as his own; a son who refuses to and aspires for a different end-goal; an unconventional, geeky school principal who wants to revitalise her husband’s legacy; a cricket coach who aspires to find the next Don Bradman or Sunil Gavaskar; and a floundering business which sees the potential to make money via the boys. The lead-in is fine, but there’s not enough to pull us into the tale and root for the characters.

However, what Selection Day does give us are some fine performances –something streaming platforms seem to give us more consistently than mainstream cinema. We rediscover the kind of actors that Ratna Pathak Shah and Mahesh Manjrekar are, leaving me to wonder why we don’t use our older actors better in mainstream cinema. Both Ratna and Mahesh give such rounded portrayals, which are equal parts vulnerability and decisiveness, that are a delight to watch. There’s also the terrific Rajesh Tailang who is an embodiment of the tyrannical father who believes he is acting in his children’s best interests.

I would have liked for the first season to make a deeper inroad into the plot, taking us closer to the titular event. For example, I would have loved to see more of Shiv Pundit’s quirky take on God, which is instead reduced to a mere cameo. In fact, I was reminded of something that Mahesh said to me in an interview about Selection Day — ‘we get characters, not caricatures’ — when it comes to off-beat content. The preface is good, for sure. But I am not sure if a mere outline of the plot and its driving forces is convincing enough to make us wait for another season.

This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.

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