A still from the film 'Selection Day'. Image Credit:

Cricket is a sacred game in India. To generate a drama of disenchantment in the cricketing field is relatively easy. What director Udayan Prasad (best remembered for the Om Puri-starrer ‘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 father drags them to Mumbai, so they can continue their cricket training.

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

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

The series is bankable buoyant and breezy without trivialising 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.

Shah, Mahesh Manjrekar (as an ageing cricket coach who rediscovers his mojo) are in brilliant form. Oberoi brings a subtle sliminess to his suave wheeler-dealer’s role. Here is an actor who deserves to be on top of the game.

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 Manjrekar’s ailing but smiling wife.

But it is 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 (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’ had us hooked and we can’t wait for season two.

Don’t miss it

‘Selection Day’ is now streaming on Netflix.