“Dekhiye sir, mere dono ladke champion hain,” actor Rajesh Tailang is seen bragging to a cricket official in Netflix’s forthcoming original, Selection Day. In the show, Tailang plays an overzealous father, Mohan Kumar, who pushes his two sons to become ace cricketers. A slight problem in this plan — one of his sons, Manju Kumar, hates cricket. The series is based on the eponymous book by Booker Prize winner, Arvind Adiga.
This is Tailang’s second outing in a father’s role in the recent past. Just a few weeks ago, he was seen playing Ramakant Pandit — a diametrically opposite character — in Mirzapur, another web series. “For me, the concept of parenting has to be somewhere in-between. These two extremes can’t work. In Mirzapur, I am extra optimistic and hopeful, while in Selection Day, I am this extra pushy person. As a parent, I identify with the thoughts of Mohan Kumar, not his ways,” says the Delhi-based artist.
The series is a satire on the current familial structure of our society and the flailing education system. The boys struggle with a desire to fulfill their father’s dreams, even as they stumble to find their own footing in a posh school, where they have been planted to realise the road to cricket. There is an absent mother thrown in the mix as well.
“We see it all around us. Parents do project their own aspirations, desires and failed ambitions on their children. That drew me to the show. Cricket is just the premise, it’s quite a scathing comment on parent-child dynamics. In the show, the father even questions the coach, beats him up, as he thinks he knows best,” says Tailang. The web series also features Mohammed Samad, Yash Dholye and Mahesh Manjrekar, along with Ratna Pathak Shah in key roles.
A veteran of the Delhi theatre scene, Tailang was born and brought up in Rajasthan, and frequented the Delhi home of his cartoonist brother, the late Sudhir Tailang. The thought of being an actor had caught hold of him early on.
“My father owned a printing press where the tickets for cinema halls would be printed. I have seen most films from the hole in the projector room, sitting on the lone stool placed there. It was very much like the film Cinema Paradiso,” says the 49-year-old, adding, “I even attended the children’s workshop organised by the National School of Drama (NSD).”
After passing out from NSD, Tailang was seen in TV shows like Shanti, and films such as Haazar Chaurasi Ki Maa, and later in Dev and Mangal Pandey: The Rising. The mention of Shanti (1995), where he played a kitchen help, lightens up the moment. “Now, when someone mentions the show, I think of it as an ancient relic, something that has perhaps come out from excavations,” says the actor.
Post-2007, till about 2013, Tailang moved bag and baggage to Delhi. “I drifted away from films and started doing theatre and teaching in Delhi,” he says. This year has been quite eventful for the actor, with three film releases and two big web shows coming his way. But the transition to digital was something he was quite keen on. “I have had my own channel on YouTube for the last few years, called Theatre Talkies, where I have put up short films and other things I have made. A full-fledged acceptance of the web-series format, where you have to hold the audience for 8-10 episodes each season, is supremely challenging for any actor,” he says.
He adds, “I understand the romanticism and appeal of films and theatre, and the romance of community-viewing. But we can’t dismiss the evolution of solo viewing. And as the stories are getting more real, and the characters are based in the same reality, people will watch it. Iss cheez se pura drishyavidhan (the pattern of visual consumption) badal gaya hai, of how we consume stories.”
Tailang, who has taught at NSD, also talks about his student days, and how things were different when he became a teacher. “When we attended NSD, we would end up referring to five books and spend hours in the library to research on a term that a professor might have mentioned. Now, the minute I mention a term or a concept, Google offers my students the five best answers. We had some semblance of the guru-shishya tradition, ab toh students sab bol dete hain,” he says.
For now, Tailang is happy dividing his time between Delhi and Mumbai and is hopeful of getting more work. “I really wish to do comedy on screen. I have done a lot on stage, and I miss the instantaneous reaction. Pata nahin mujhe sirf sanjeeda kism ke role hi kyun offer hote hain,” he adds.
Selection Day will stream on Netflix, December 28 onwards