There is huge excitement among Indian Netflix audiences this month. After Netflix India’s original movies “Love Per Square Foot” and “Lust Stories”, the first-ever Netflix original Indian web series released on July 6. “Sacred Games” has been directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, and adapted by Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath from Vikram Chandra’s thriller novel of the same name.
Excitement about this series started with the trailer itself. Firstly, it was because of the cast – Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, along with Neeraj Kabi and Marathi big shots Jitendra Joshi, Girish Kulkarni all together in the same place! Secondly, because it is the first Indian Netflix original thriller series, curiosity was at its peak.
From the trailer, the plot looked simple – the same old story of a gangster’s rise and fall. We’ve seen it in Bollywood before. But after watching the series, one can’t resist getting attached to it and wanting more. Its influence rises with every episode, and at the end of the season, we are left dumbstruck.
The season is entirely based in Mumbai. Saif Ali Khan plays police inspector Sartaj Singh who is honest but not very successful in his work. He has been presented in an entirely different role which stands out from his usual characters, apart from his notable contributions in movies liked “Rangoon” and “Kaalakaandi”. The antagonist Ganesh Gaitonde has been portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has not only done an extraordinary job, but also owned the series in the way he says –”Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi bhagwan hai!’ (Sometimes it feels like I’m God).’
He gives Sartaj a big mystery to solve, which has a long list of sub-questions. What is their connection? What’s going to happen in the next 25 days? Why and how was he betrayed? Was he scared? Where was he in the last 15-20 years? Why is his third baap so important? The episodes answer some of these questions and add a few new mysteries along the way, keeping the viewers glued to their screens. Each episode is named after mythological terms from the Mahabharata, which is a good change from the bombardment of foreign mythological series.
Four women play an important role in Ganesh’s life. First, his mother (played by Vibhawari Deshpande). Even though she is a part of the series for a very short duration, she has a significant role to play in leading him to his first ever crime.
His infatuation with Kukoo (Kubra Sait) despite her secrets, leads him to a rivalry with Sulaiman Isa and his gang. His wife Subhadra (Rajshri Deshpande) plays a small but major role in his life. Her death makes him murder 80 random innocent people, which fuels the riots in 1992 and lands him in jail. Kantabaai was Ganesh’s guide in Mumbai (portrayed by Shalini Vatsa). All these women rise bright and strong and even dominate Gaitonde’s being.
Sartaj Singh is shown isolated and disturbed by his divorce. He eventually evolves as a person bold enough to even risk his job by diving deep into Gaitonde’s case. Saif Ali Khan has done his homework for this character so it doesn’t look forced at any point.
One of the most powerful characters of this season is Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte) -a RAW agent who is shown continuously fighting the demons of patriarchy in the line of work and the tragic closure of her missing father’s case. Looking at the strong female characters Radhika has portrayed earlier, we might develop some expectations from Anjali, her being a female RAW agent. She is shown to have been complaining that female agents, despite their abilities, are forced to do desk work rather than go on the field. At the same time, she is portrayed to be inadequate at her job, not vigilant enough. Whether it is the requirement of the character or not is another matter, but RAW certainly trains their agents well, so I did not find that part convincing enough.
The same is the case with constable Katekar. The fate of his character looks slightly out-of-place. His journey from the cop who is unenthusiastic about the missing Muslim boy to the cop who tells his wife, ”आज खूप दिवसांनी खऱ्या पोलिसासारखं वागलो (Today, I acted as a true policeman after a long time),” with satisfaction, is overwhelming.
Both Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde are not originally from Mumbai but want to cherish it in their own ways.
Ganesh’s character might remind us of the Joker from Batman, but later we realise that he is more than just a villain or anti-hero. They have done a good job of showing the evolution of Ganesh’s character through his thought process and ambitions. However, we don’t get much visual input about who he is and what he does. He talks about big things in the narrative but looks idle except for the sex and murder. Gaitonde’s character is limited to his own male ego and sexual pride. This suppresses Nawazuddin’s skills as an actor, even though his narrative takes over the season.
We also get a look at Mumbai’s history (of four decades) from Gaitonde’s point of view. It is quite challenging to construct a fictional character taking part in actual history without moulding it, especially while constantly switching from flashbacks to present, but the directors and writers have been successful in making it look natural.
The interesting fact is, Ganesh Gaitonde is a Brahmin by birth. His father was a Pundit with low self-esteem who did nothing but beg and his mother had an extramarital affair. A family background like this is never shown for a Brahmin character in Indian fiction.
Another question we are left with is – are Khanna Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) or Malcolm Murad (Luke Kenny) the bigger villain in this story? Guruji resembles the Hindu manipulators who trap people in the vicious mesh of religion. Malcolm is a cold-blooded assassin. Their connection with each other and with Gaitonde and his network is yet to be presented in detail. So it is going to be a thrilling experience to see how these two characters evolve and use Gaitonde as a pawn leading him to his own, and possibly the city’s, destruction. All eight episodes were released at the same time, so the viewers can do nothing but wonder about the next season till it comes.
Neeraj Kabi, who plays DCP Parulkar, has efficiently portrayed a selfish character. Girish Kulkarni, as usual, does a fantastic job even in the small duration of his role, to show the journey of a local bootlicking political aspirant to a gluttonous Home Minister.
One more big difference in “Sacred Games” is that the characters are not talking in Hindi forcibly, they talk in their respective languages (Punjabi/Marathi) among their own people. This, along with the frank swearing helps in enriching the series’ authenticity. In the same league as “Masaan” and “Gangs Of Wasseypur”, watching “Sacred Games” is exhilarating. Those who berate it for containing inappropriate language and scenes, possibly don’t understand that these are least important among all the other positive elements of the series.
The overall experience is wonderful and such experiments must be done more often. I’d say, everyone who is bored of watching Indian serial drama and also bored with foreign crime drama with the usual hero-antihero crisis (Sherlock-Moriarty, Hannibal-Graham, Batman-Joker etc), should watch a good work of fiction like this.