Though it also features seasoned actors like Mahesh Manjrekar and Ratna Pathak Shah, it is difficult to not notice three young, unfamiliar-looking boys in the trailer of Netflix’s upcoming Indian original series Selection Day.
Meet Mohammad Samad, Yash Dholye and Karanvir Malhotra—the trio that Netflix is heavily banking on for its next show, a coming-of-age cricket drama. You may have watched Samad on screen before. At 18, he has acted in several films, including Haraamkhor and more recently, Tummbad. In Selection Day, he plays the lead character Manju Kumar, the sensitive, conflicted younger brother trapped in his father’s obsession.
The series marks the debut of the other two—Dholye, 21, and Malhotra, 23. Here, in a News18 exclusive, the three talk about acting, cricket, their friendship, meeting Sachin Tendulkar and exploring homosexuality on screen.
Did you guys always want to be actors?
Samad: When I did my first film Gattu, I wasn’t too sure about being an actor. I started thinking seriously about it only after 2013.
Dholye: I wanted to join air force. I’d still love to but my eyesight is weak. My mom used to force me to become an actor hoping that my focus would shift from becoming a fighter pilot. I was always into creative arts so I finally joined theatre in college.
Malhotra: My mother introduced me to not just theatre but a lot of other performing arts. She is a History teacher but when I was 10, she made me join a theatre workshop. After that I did some theatre in school and then in post-graduation in Delhi. Acting eventually became my passion.
The show has a lot of cricket. Did you guys know how to play the sport before coming on board?
Malhotra: I love playing cricket. So the daily two-hour morning practice was a lot of fun for me.
Dholye: The sessions weren’t gruelling at all. I was in my school cricket team and have attended a few summer camps, so I found it quite easy. I just had to polish myself a bit and know the technicalities better.
Samad: It was very difficult for me. I didn’t even know how to hold a bat. It took me 1.5 months to just learn how to hit the ball right, making it to the boundaries happened much later.
You guys got to work with veterans like Mahesh Manjrekar and Ratna Pathak Shah. How has it been?
Dholye: It was easy, actually. In the beginning we had apprehensions about how they’d be, but with time we found them to be very cool people. They are as normal as we are. They’d talk to us, share their experiences, even those apart from acting and films.
Malhotra: They were very approachable, especially Ratna Ma’am. She is a brilliant teacher. Whenever we weren’t shooting or were in between takes, she’d always make us learn about the craft or just talk about an anecdote. She’d talk about everything from her theatre days to travel and art. It was very enriching and privileged to be shooting with them and learning at the same time.
Samad: Mahesh Sir would talk to me a lot about shooting. He’d tell me how to respond, improve my body language. I once asked him if he knew a good acting school that I could enroll in. But he told me not to go to any acting school. He said, “You act well. Just work on your language and you’d be fine.”
Samad, Shiv Pandit says that you guys have become great friends even off camera…
Yes, but we didn’t talk at all when we first met. However, after our first scene together, he told me that it’d be easier for both of us to perform better if we had some sort of friendship off screen as well.
You know, sometimes you get hesitant when working with a senior actor. But that was never the case with him. He made me so comfortable. He’d do a lot of fun on set—say something and then laugh on his own jokes. It was very necessary for us to bond otherwise our characters wouldn’t have developed the way they have.
The three of you have worked very closely on this project. What is your off-screen equation like?
Dholye: We are mad together.
Samad: Karan took a long time to open up. Initially, he’d be doing something or the other—read a book, fiddle with his phone, and Yash and I used to fight a lot. But now, we have all become very good friends.
Malhotra: We used to be together all the time because we shared one vanity van. The three of us are very different. Yash and Samad had already begun shoot by the time I came on board. They would keep fighting all the time so much so that I would wonder how they’d play brothers on screen. But after we got to know each other, we rocked like a house of fire.
The show also explores homosexuality. How easy or difficult was it to understand the nuances?
Malhotra: Both Manju and Javed (Malhotra’s character) are at an age where they can’t give a tag to their relationships. Considering the kind of atrocities that they have suffered, they find solace and comfort in each other, which then transcends into something which is a little sexual and playful.
There is an undertone of homosexuality, it’s not explicit. Even when we were discussing our characters, nobody expressly told us that it was a gay character. It was just written in a way that it could be interpreted in any way. It’s ambiguous.
I personally didn’t put a lot of thought towards it. I felt it was something that would come if it has to come and I hope it has. It just happened in the moment. Whenever there were any delicate scenes, there used to be a lot of silence on set, the energy would be extremely delicate and it really helped me to feel something special, something extra that the character might feel in that situation.
Samad: It used to be difficult during the rehearsals but we’d be completely ready before the shoot. It is all about the friendship that Javed and Manju have for each other. Adolescents have this innate curiosity. They want to explore themselves.
Samad and Yash, you two recently met Sachin Tendulkar. How was it like?
Dholye: I was completely blank. We have grown up watching him play, we bow to him. Now if he is shaking hands with you, talking to you, you’ll of course get dumbfounded—it’s such big moment. Not everyone gets this chance.
Samad: We couldn’t bring ourselves to ask him questions. So he only kept asking us about the shoot, the experience. We were just answering. Yash, as he said, was completely blank but Sachin Sir kept telling me to not get nervous.