In Praise of Jitendra Joshi As Katekar From Netflix’s Sacred Games
Netizens can’t stop singing praises about Netflix’s Sacred Games. The name that is being taken in the same breath as Sartaj and Gaitonde is that of Katekar.
In the gritty ‘global’ series, Jitendra Joshi fondly known as Jitu Dada, playing the part of Saif Ali Khan’s (Sartaj) unwavering aide, pulls no punches in fortifying it with ‘local’ heft.
Almost like a Watson to Saif’s Sherlock, Katekar is a dependable comrade and a sensitive observer. The tiniest exchanges between the two can explode into epiphanies, inspiring all the ‘Find someone who looks at you the way Katekar looks at Sartaj,’ memes.
Twitterati may consider Jitendra Joshi, essaying the role of the constable in the series as a ‘hidden gem’ but he’s no obscure figure in the Marathi film industry and theatre. Remember the Katrina Kaif song, Chikni Chameli? The tune is inspired by the song, Kombdi Palali, from the film Jatra. Guess who penned the lyrics of this massively popular track - Jitendra Joshi. From a newspaper distributor and an electrician in his younger days to a writer and an actor, Jitendra Joshi has come a long way.
Heartbreak spurred him on to be a poet/lyricist. He even went on to be the lyricist for Nana Patekar’s acclaimed film Pak Pak Pakaak and Hindi movies, Virrudh and Striker. Joshi has been very candid about his first love, writing. His improvisations on the show are a testament to that. The series would have been richer with a song written by him. He had once admitted that if he were given enough money, he’d spend his time reading, devouring good cinema and writing poetry. We wonder if Sacred Games changes that!
When Marathi actor, Mohan Wagh reportedly noticed Joshi on stage, he offered to cast him in his play Three Cheers, that brought Joshi to Mumbai from Pune. His career gained ground in theatre with other plays like Mukkam Post Bombilwadi, Hum Toh Tere Aashiq Hai and the Gujarati play Chhel Chhabilo Gujarati.
Joshi first appeared on small screen with a sociopolitical satire in 1999 - Ghadlay Bighadlay. But his face became a regular fixture in Maharashtrian households much later with a TV show he hosted, Campus.
And then there was Tukaram. Guess who played his wife, Avali in the film based on the life of the saint? Radhika Apte.
He slid into comic parts effortlessly but Jitu Dada’s outing as a baddie in the enormously popular film, Duniyadari made him a coveted choice to play villains. So he followed it up with Shreyas Talpade’s Baaji. His oeuvre as an actor also includes films like Shaala, Poster Boys , Singham Returns and Natsamrat.
You may even remember him from Priyanka Chopra’s Ventilator, that helped him bag a nomination for best actor in a leading role in the Marathi Filmfare Awards.
Coming back to Sacred Games, it’s Katekar’s character rendered by Joshi that really helps unravel Sartaj. Despite playing second fiddle to the cop, Katekar doles out pearls of wisdom that only a seasoned police officer can muster. He’s disgruntled and complacent but not cynical. He does not rage against the system like Sartaj.
Katekar may have braved a bullet during 26/11 but he isn’t filled with resentment. He’s grateful that he’s alive. Still awaiting a monetary compensation and tracking his ‘file’, he’s content with his trophy. Joshi conjures Katekar’s woundedness without sentimentality. His relationship with his wife, Shalini is tender without unrealistic soppy flourishes.
A Mumbai constable, who is at the centre of the action and yet consigned to the fringes offers a unique lens to perceive this beast of a city. Joshi evocatively portrays the flawed Katekar - his devilish gaze when he means business, his heartfelt warmth and awe when he shadows Sartaj, his vibrant personality that lights up the darkest folds of the grim show, his humour that quakes with truths and his xenophobia.
Be it Cuckoo or Katekar, the show is not interested in binaries. Even when we see the endearing Katekar’s ugly bigotry at close quarters, we empathise with him. We know where he comes from. A commendable character arc makes him confront his bias and we witness his anguish and the liberation he feels in his ‘search for the truth’.
Rarely have we seen an entire episode riding on a supporting character. Episode six turns out to be the most gut-wrenching of the eight. Katekar’s death socks you in the solar plexus, sparks Sartaj’s moral descent of sorts and also offers a crucial clue.
Nothing is the same anymore. You can be convinced that a character is well-etched and brilliantly performed when you miss him in a space as mundane as the one by the fish tank in an unassuming police station.
It’s the beauty of the medium of series that offers space for the development of characters that are usually seen on the margins in films.
If you are feeling a Katekar-shaped void and wish to see more of him, he is set to perform in a translated Hindi play, Mai Hoon Yusuf Aur Ye Hain Mera Bhai, written by Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian play writer-director at Prithvi theatre in Mumbai in September.