Like Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the new Netflix series Selection Day is a rags-to-riches story based on an English novel by an Indian author – Aravind Adiga’s book of the same name. While Slumdog was themed around celebrity and fame, Selection Day is about India’s other obsession: cricket. As in the Oscar-winning film, the plot involves two brothers, teenage cricket prodigies Manju (Mohammad Samad) and Radha (Yash Dholye), who arrive in Mumbai with the aim of making it to the under-nineteen National team. Manju isn’t crazy about cricket – he wants to study science – but is scared to go against his overbearing father (Rajesh Tailang) who has raised and trained his sons to be future cricket stars – he calls them as Champion number 1 and Champion number 2 (call it Reverse Indian Middle Class Parent Syndrome).
In other words, like Slumdog Millionaire, Selection Day has the ingredients that seem to appeal to a global audience. And these striking, if broad, parallels, I am guessing, must have played in Anil Kapoor’s mind – who found himself in a number of international projects since his ticket-to-Hollywood role in Slumdog – when he decided to produce the series.
Kapoor isn’t entirely new to the TV series business; in 2013 he acted in and produced the Hindi adaptation of 24. One of the directors of that show Karan Boolani has partnered with Kapoor as one of the Executive Producers of Selection Day, besides directing a number of episodes of it. The six-episode series, about twenty five minutes long each, will be aired on Netflix from December 28.
Edited excerpts from a brief chat with Kapoor and Boolani:
In a Hollywood Reporter article in 2014, you said this about Antila Ventures, your new company back then: “I have long nurtured a dream of creating a global entertainment company. Given my vast experience in the Indian film industry and exposure in recent years in Hollywood, I felt the time was right to give shape and structure to this vision.…”
Selection Day is produced by Anil Kapoor Films, but is it an extension of the same plan?
Anil Kapoor: I’ve been saying this since 2010 – and this is one of the quotes. Ten years back when I was in the US for a year, immediately after I did some jobs internationally, whenever I had time I would meet people I’d often say that we have to look at things which will resonate globally, especially with Indian talent – actors, directors. It’s a fantastic time to show our work globally.
On 28 December, 190 countries will see it. The dream is coming true.
How did you get involved in Selection Day?
AK: I just heard the story, and read the book. I guess that’s what it has always been with everybody who produces content: It’s all about the story, putting the right people together and making the show. We got our Indian team together and we have some partners in England.
Karan Boolani: Everyone, including Netflix, felt that we’ll be the right people… All of us were excited.
Karan, you have directed some episodes, you are the creative producer and one of the executive producers along with Anil, who is also the producer. What do your designations require you to do?
KB: I have been an assistant director and I started in television commercials. So for me it was simple – you have to do everything. Whatever you are making is above your designation. So anything that was needed to be done to get the show shot, written, casted, edited, is my responsibility… Getting the right people together is the hardest part for something like this. Then it’s flowing – the cast is exceptional, kids are fantastic… Everything just comes together.
AK: It is very relatable. You can identify with so many characters. The kids, the father… The performances are so good: Mahesh (Manjrekar) and Ratna (Pathak), and Rajesh Tailang who plays the father. It’s also the perfect time as the holiday season is there. The whole family can watch it together.
Anil, did you take decisions in terms of casting, editing?
AK: Today there are such great professionals. For example, we had Tess (Joseph) as the casting director. Now it’s become very easy. We send mails to each other and we come to a kind of a… ‘yeh correct hai’.
KB: When you gather the right team everybody’s opinion is valuable. And the best decision is the majority of opinions. I mean, we’re passionate people and emotional people so sometimes it feels like a war, (laughs). Always, otherwise there’s no passion.
Did the experience working with 24, which was one of the first Indian attempts at the new-age TV series format, help?
KB: With 24, we produced and created close to twenty four hours each season, which is forty hours of content. Just managing that massive ship gives you a lot of experience but again you come up with 100 new challenges that you never expected. But I don’t think doing 24 made this easier.
AK: But definitely experience gives you the confidence. 24 had a scale that wasn’t there 5-6 years ago. So it was even more difficult to convince people, the writers and directors, to be a part of it. I had to beg them, almost prostate in front of them, to do it. Now it’s become easier to put the right team together.