Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Camera Person: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Producer: Abhishek Ranjan
Premiering on a laptop near you is Netflix’s first Indian original series, Sacred Games. Based on Vikram Chandra’s 2006 thriller novel by the same name, the expectations from the series are understandably massive – considering Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane are helming the project, along with a stellar cast that almost always delivers impeccably.
Sans unnecessary palaver, Sacred Games plunges headlong into the dark, morbid underbelly of Mumbai and its denizens.
In the first scene, we hear a loud thud as a Pomeranian falls to his death on a slab of concrete.
The dog is discussed episodes later, but for now, we cut to a bloodied woman crawling away from her assassin till he fatally shoots her. It is to the credit of editor Arti Bajaj for seamlessly negotiating this non-liner narrative structure with such finesse.
Directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane peddle their distinct wares. The 8 episodes of Season 1 cover four decades – from the 70s to the present day – with Kashyap shooting Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s period sequences and Motwane in charge of Saif Ali Khan’s present day Mumbai outing.
Alokananda Dasgupta’s stunning background score sets an ominous tone, where Mumbai must fight for its survival. The city is running out of time and we follow the hot pursuit of a dreaded gangster, Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who makes a dramatic comeback after being missing in action for 17 long years.
Siddiqui, once again, shows his mastery over his craft with his character – an unhinged megalomaniac with a menacing presence. His appearance has a domino effect as it sets into motion a series of events that reveal the motivations of various characters and their own murky dealings.
Police Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) gets an anonymous tip about Gaitonde‘s whereabouts and his paths crisscross with that of RAW officer Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte), who is trying to unearth a terror plot.
Surrounded by an air of disquiet, Saif is brilliant as an honest cop who seethes silently at a system that berates his efforts in favour of corruption and power. The countdown to the 25-day apocalypse warning keeps the urgency on.
Writers Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath have done a terrific job of speeding up and slowing down the narrative to throw in meaty cliffhangers.
One can’t truly understand Sacred Games without appreciating the politics that has been dexterously weaved in.
From the 1975 Emergency, imposed by Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi’s Bofors scandal, to events that have shaped our country’s destiny, with the eventual rise of Hindutva politics.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in his signature brusque style, recounts how he learned to manipulate people by using religion as a whip. The 1992 Mumbai riots, followed by the blasts that left it scarred, to the Babri Masjid demolition that left an indelible mark on our collective conscious – all of it has been tackled brilliantly.
Many characters are introduced and eventually reach their denouement through the course of season 1; But the writing makes each one of them indispensable to the plot. They’re all welcome additions, be it Neeraj Kabi, in the role of a ruthless police officer, or Girish Kulkarni as a Machiavellian politician, Rajshri Deshpande as Subhadra, Kubra Sait as Cuckoo, the stunning transwoman that Gaitonde falls in love with, and even the delightful Jitendra Joshi as Constanble Katekar.
Sacred Games etches the raw, terrifying underbelly of Mumbai with its grime and grotesques on full display. The digital space allows Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya motwane’s creative vision to flourish, without diluting it with blurs and beeps.
The profanity , nudity and grizzly violence all help pack powerful punch. Sacred Games deserves to be devoured.