The wait is over. Netflix has finally released it’s first Indian original, Sacred Games into the world. Based on Vikram Chandra’s novel by the same name, it is the story of Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan), an honest but jaded police inspector, who receives a tip about crime lord Ganesh Gaitonde’s (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui) return to Mumbai after 15 years. This phone call begins his descent into the dirty world of crime and politics, that is at the core of Sacred Games.
The series is directed by two of the best directors in the country, but has been shot separately – with Vikramaditya Motwane directing Singh’s story, and Anurag Kashyap shooting Gaitonde’s track. The story begins with the tip off to Singh, and then we are told that Singh has 25 days to save his city. From what, from whom and why, we don’t know yet.
We have a countdown, a gangster, a mostly failed cop – it feels like a classic chase. But as the story unfolds, with Gaitonde’s past and Singh’s present, we realise that this will not be easy for Singh. Because a policeman whose last catch was Sonu the pickpocket isn’t really taken seriously by his boss and colleagues. Plus he is trying very hard to be an honest cop, in a department that strongly discourages it. Enter Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte), a RAW agent, who like Singh is fighting an uphill battle to convince her bosses to take her seriously. Although, like in the novel, the biggest character in the story is the city of Mumbai itself – its garbage which turns into gold, its dance bars and its anda pav.
The screenplay, adapted brilliantly by Motwane, and his team of writers- Varun Grover, Smita Singh, and Vasant Nath – has moved the timeline of the book, which is set in the early 2000s, to the present. And while the writers deviate often from the book, they are true to the soul of the source material – oftentimes adapting episodes from the book, changing them completely in the process and still managing to be very authentic. The screenplay, mostly taut and and compelling, falters in the middle as the story diverts a little too much from the impending doom of the city, instead focusing on abused TV actresses, a film star and her boyfriend, and Gaitonde’s relationship with Kukoo (Kubbra Sait). The dialogues are fantastic, and what really sets Sacred Games apart from most other content is that it isn’t afraid to use regional languages when it is organic, a technique used in one of Netflix’s most successful shows, Narcos.
Kashyap and Siddiqui are in familiar territory here, where Kashyap himself has directed Siddique in previous films charting Siddiqui’s rise from nowhere to crime lord. Gaitonde almost feels like it was written for Siddiqui. It plays to his strengths, and he delivers and how. But the biggest revelation in the series is Khan, who, as the unassuming but troubled Sikh cop is the most impactful. It’s been a while since we have seen Khan in something impressive on screen, but it’s good to have him back. The support cast is well cast with Aamir Bashir, Girish Kulkarni, Neeraj Kabi, Pankaj Tripathi and Radhika Apte delivering solid performances. But what truly is exceptional is Jitendra Joshi’s portrayal of Katekar, Singh’s aide, struggling between balancing his family and urgent police duty at midnight.
Sacred Games is the first foray into web content in India at this scale, it was a risk to take, and the gamble has paid off. At a very basic level, Sacred Games is the story of a gangster and a cop, but in reality it is a lot more, it is about crime, politics, religion, corruption, compromised security agencies and safe work spaces. It’s an Indian story to tell, but it fits in the global narrative. It’s not flawless, but it’s still very good, and if this is the first of the seven Indian originals that Netflix has planned, then the benchmark has been set quite high. For viewers, and for those who work in the content making industry, this is only good news.
All episodes streaming on Netflix since July 6.
Jayanti Jha, 23, is a former TV producer, who is currently trying to navigate life in the capital with her cat, all the while reminiscing about Bandra. She tweets @JayantiJha7.
Featured image credit: Youtube