When Vikram Chandra’s novel, “Sacred Games” was published in 2006, my knowledgeable grandfather gifted it to me as a birthday present. Despite enjoying heavy tomes of literature, I couldn’t make it past the first 100 pages of this one. As a 19 year old, the dirty underbelly of politics, religion and gang-wars failed to catch my fancy; but after binge-watching Vikramaditya Motwane’s popular Netflix show based on the novel, I’m diving straight into that book!
This post is a review of the first season of the Sacred Games TV show on Netflix. There’ll be a separate review on the book. Follow my blog to stay updated.
The main stars in scenes from the TV show. Picture courtesy: indianexpress.com
Honest, low-ranking Mumbai cop, Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) receives an intriguing phone call from renowned gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddique), relating his life story and tipping him about an impending attack on the city. RAW agent Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte) intercepts the phone-call and subsequently joins hands with Singh to find the truth without raising the suspicions of their superior officers.
The story constantly shifts between two time periods, where the audience is shown Gaitonde’s rise to power in a Mumbai torn by communal hatred in the 80s and 90s; and the present day efforts of Singh and Mathur at solving the mystery of the upcoming Mumbai attack.
Corrupt police officers, top-level politicians, celebrities who are victims of a sleazy film industry and international gangsters act as deterrents to the central characters on their quest.
Picture courtesy: impawards.com
The dark cinematography, sultry background music, and unapologetic violence, ensures the audience is hooked from the start. The gripping storyline offers a slow build-up of tension with plenty of shocking moments. It’s gritty, it’s raw and it’s very Indian.
Nawazuddin Siddique is the undisputed star in a pool of talented actors. He’s the epitome of Gaitonde, making it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Saif Ali Khan and Radhika Apte do an admirable job of exploring the insecure, angry nuances of their characters, alongside their obvious crime-fighting front. Some of the smaller but equally significant characters stand out for fantastic performances, including Jitendra Joshi as Singh’s constable Katekar, Neeraj Kabi as the dishonest DCP Parulkar, Jatin Sarna as Gaitonde’s right-hand man- Bunty, Kubbra Sait as the stunning transgender hooker- Kukoo, and Girish Kulkarni as corrupt Home Minister Bipin Bhosle. Some of the supporting actors could’ve been cast differently for a more effective performance.
The directors Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have excelled at creating an edgy atmosphere. The nudity, sex and violence, aren’t sleazy, forced or overdone.
Strangely, the many Indian stereotypes are the show’s most engaging quality. Human emotions are laid bare, stressing on the grey shades of a person’s character. For example, Gaitonde is a criminal par excellence but he’s also a good and fair man. Singh is valorous to the point of being stupid yet the most endearing character on the show. Mathur appears ruthless in her attempt to break a glass ceiling, but is secretly plagued with fears and unpreparedness.
My one complaint is on the narrative being clunky at certain points, with too much going on. The editing could’ve been tighter to make it seamless.
“Sacred Games” will appeal to an audience looking for slick crime shows with an authentic Indian appeal. Despite the tendency for melodrama, you’ll want to return for more. I highly recommend the TV show but beware of its disturbing nature!
Show rating: 4/5
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