Selection Day Is Netflix’s Best Indian Series To Date

Selection Day

Starring Mohammad Samad, Yash Dholye, Akshay Oberoi, Rajesh Telang, Mahesh Manjrekar, Ratna Pathak Shah,

Directed  by Udayan Prasad

Rating: *** ½(3 and a  half stars).

So  okay. You thought Nawazuddin’s anal sex  in Sacred Games was  the acme of authenticity. There  is  the other reality,  though  , a reality  far removed from  the  murky machinations  and frenetic fornication of  the underworld .

The reality encountered by  the Indian middle class as  it  grapples with  its dreams and aspirations.

I could almost hear the sound of those  workingclass aspirations shattering and falling to the ground in  Selection Day. The actual  sacred game  in India is cricket. To  generate  a drama  of  disenchantment  in the cricketing field is relatively easy. What director Udayan Prasad(best remembered for  the Om Puri helmed feature film My Son The Fanatic)has done is to  make the  cricket ground  a place  for  meditation on  socio-cultural displacement .

Much of  the series’ meat and juice come from its  source material , the novel by Aravind Adiga. This is the epic story of the  migratory  translocation  of two young boys Radha(Yash Dholye) and Manju(Mohammad Samad)  aged 15 and 16  from rural Maharashtra whose  tyrannical  trashy father  drags them to Mumbai for  a life of cricket.

 Udayan Prasad and his writers(Marston  Bloom, Karan Aggarwal, Sumit Arora) have dug deep into the class differences at the turf level.

There is  a remarkably subtle homo-erotic attraction that grows between  Manju and an upperclass Muslim  boyJaved(Karanvir Malhotra). That young Samad happens to be  an actor  of phenomenal sensitivity helps give the content   a quicksilver  immediacy and warmth. Coverging  gently on  Samad, the series  becomes  the saga of Manju’s journey  from patriarchal tyranny  to  sexual and  spiritual freedom.

The series is  bankably  buoyant and breezy without trivializing the issues that concern  the theme,  such as  a young mind’s  right to  follow its own dream. There is  a  subplot about an over-ambitious  realtor (Akshay  Oberoi) trying to get a wily wizened  but impish  real-esate owner (Ratna Pathak Shah) to part  with her  property. Oberoi and Shah  play against each other with a flirtatious malevolence  bringing to the table  the  mood  of  tragic travesty that has  overtaken the metropolitan psyche.

Ratna  Pathak Shah,  Mahesh Manjrekar(as an aging cricket coach who rediscovers hi mojo) , Rajesh Telang are brilliantly in form.Akshay Oberoi brings a subtle sliminess to his suave wheelerdealer’s role. Here is an actor who deserves to be on top of  the game.Sacred  or otherwise. And I was  delighted  to see the accomplished Geetanjali Kulkarni(last seen as  a prosecutor cutting vegetables on the train back home from court for the family dinner in the Marathi film Court) playing MaheshManjrekar’s ailing but smiling wife.

But it is Mohammad Samad whose  performance anchors the  series. He plays the reluctant cricketer with  a just the right  amount of angst and  assuredness.My favourite sequence in the series is the one where the principal  of  the school RatnaPathak Shah punishes Samad by  banning him  from playing cricket for a week.

“But that’s not  a punishment,”  smiles Samad  with such understated  relevance,  it shows we are  looking at an actor with a  very bright future.Ditto the series.

Brimming with an  all-knowing wisdom that never grows cocky Selection Day  has me hooked. I can’t wait for Season 2.

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