On Friday, at 12.30 pm, all eight episodes of Netflix's first original series from India, Sacred Games, were made available for viewers. Having followed the process and missed out on the opportunity to catch the screening, I was counting down the minutes to squeeze in as many episodes as I can before I had to be at work. And to tell you the truth, I exited the app very reluctantly as I entered my office building. Vikram Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have brought to screen a gripping Indian tale that has the potential of finding an audience on the international level.
Sacred Games is based on the eponymous novel, written by Vikram Chandra. (Full disclosure – I have not read the book) It's the story of Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) and Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who are connected by one person — Sartaj's father Dilbagh Singh.[embedded content]
Sartaj is a seasoned and cynical Mumbai Police officer who cannot lie. All he wants is to be a good police officer. He gets an anonymous tip one night that promises a breakthrough in the decades-old underworld activities in the maximum city. The voice is of Gaitonde, a criminal mastermind who rose to become one the most wanted names in the city, with connections to ISI and other terrorist organisation. Gaitonde warns Sartaj of a danger that is looming on the city's horizon and will destroy everything in the next 25 days. The countdown begins as we get to see events unfold from the perspectives of the two men running the show.
The show began with a gory scene that might force you to peep at the screen from behind a blanket. It's a forewarning for the viewers that nothing is off limits. The language is embellished the way it always is in Anurag Kashyap movie. Leaving these trademarks aside, the first two episodes of the show give the impression that Nawazuddin and Saif have become their respective characters.
Saif's Sartaj is broken and is fighting on two fronts. His personal life involves a bitter, broken relationship, and a struggle with opioids, while his professional fight involves corrupt colleagues and seniors. Saif takes no time in bringing that frustration out. Nawazuddin's character is a psychopath. He kills without remorse and sees it as a move up the ladder. The timeline jump for his character in the first episode allows him to show his range and Nawaz sinks his teeth deep.
The first two episodes don't give much screen time to Radhika Apte, who plays a RAW agent Anjali Mathur. Neeraj Kabi and Girish Kulkarni play a corrupt police officer and the state's home minister respectively. Their acting is up to standard, but what irks a Marathi ear is the dialogue delivery in the language.
The adaptation by screenwriter Varun Grover is made more effective by the crisp editing done by Aarti Bajaj. Alokananda Dasgupta's original score keeps up the pace and only adds to the suspense and thrill of the story. Director duo Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap make sure that the stories of these two individuals intertwine within the bigger arc of the 25-day countdown.
Netflix has promoted the show as India's answer to Narcos. One cannot be certain of the universal response to the show, but the first impression tells me it has potential.