Selection Day part 2 review: Netflix show cuts down on cricket despite sport being its calling card
With 20-odd-minute episodes, the show never really drags, but isn’t as razor-sharp as it could have been
There is a central conceit in Netflix’s Selection Day that rather appealed to me (I suspect it would, to any cricket fan.) A father in small-town India raising, training and disciplining his boys into becoming teen cricket prodigies, without even finding out if they really want it; and then dragging them to Mumbai in the hopes of them stroking their way into the big league.
But the show isn’t all about cricket. Split into two parts of six episodes each, Netflix released the second part of the season a few months after the first, probably to coincide with the all-consuming IPL extravaganza. Yet, it has many other dramatic facets to it - I’d say too many, leading to a breezy show that you could invest in and binge, as long as you’re not expecting it to reach into your gut and give you deep-feels.
Based on the Aravind Adiga novel Selection Day, the show adds 10 pounds or more, with many little sub-plots and storylines that, for me, kept taking away from the cricket. So there’s a land-grab case, a mystery about the whereabouts of someone’s mother, a story of teenage angst with queer undertones, a possible case of domestic violence, an entrepreneurship venture involving a homegrown healthy energy drink and even a smug Shiv Pandit playing God and/or the central character Manju’s inner voice.
But Manju’s story, bereft of all the misdirections of the plot, does have potential. His dad’s rigour made him into a great cricketing talent, but he wants none of that. He’d like to just be free. There are so many undiscovered aspects to life — like science and love — and that’s *his* playground.
Mohammad Samad, who plays Manju, is young, so he isn’t completely at ease turning into such a complex character, but he has a certain personality that makes up for it. He’ll evolve, you can tell. And to provide the fuel for his journey, he has at least three characters played by fine actors around him.
There’s Mahesh Manjrekar as Tommy sir - legendary cricket coach drawn out of a controversial retirement by the sheer talent he sees in the two brothers Manju and Radha, Ratna Pathak Shah as Nellie - principal of the school that accepts the boys, and of course, the ostensible antagonist-in-chief, Manju and Radha’s father Mohan, played by Rajesh Tailang (who, after Delhi Crime, is quickly taking over as the new Radhika Apte for Netflix.)
The bits involving cricket is where the show is on its firmest footing. There’s so much that sport teaches you, so much that Manju and Radha have to learn from the game whether they want to or not.
Radha, for instance, is supposed to be the superior batsman among the two, possibly the best of his age. Yet, he does have one weakness; that bit of sorcery that has felled the greatest of all time - the likes of Gavaskar, Sachin, Dravid and Virat: a good pace bowler’s swinging ball pitched just outside the off-stump, leaving the right-hander. It’s a delivery that makes even the best second-guess themselves, particularly early in the innings when they’re still finding their feet. The foil for Radha’s one weakness is Manju, perhaps because he’s so uninvested in cricket itself, he isn’t preempting the swinging ball but playing it on instinct.
But when the show isn’t creating tiny little gemstone moments like these, it’s all over the place. Some sub-plots disappear into thin air while others appear out of nowhere. (Quite like Shiv Pandit’s pesky character, now that I think of it.) Even the father, who otherwise has a single-minded craze towards making his boys into champions, decides that he wants to also co-found a health drink company, dreaming of turning it into a global empire after selling a few bottles of his Champion Tonic.
From the beginning right up to the eponymous Selection Day, these little distractions are spread evenly over both parts of the show. Part 1 ended at a point that seemed crucial at the time, but turns out to be quite insignificant later. Part 2 does become more intense with its drama, but also strays from it often.
With 20-odd-minute episodes, the show never really drags, but isn’t as razor-sharp as it could have been. It ends on a note that suggests a season two, but it’s one that I’d watch with the hope that the next time around they immerse the drama back into the cricket.
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