The stakes could not have been higher for Netflix’s web series Sacred Games. A star cast which would make any big production house envious, two directors who have changed the way cinema is perceived in India and a screenplay which does complete justice to the eponymous novel on which it is based. The directors and writers have pretty much stuck to the novel’s premise. The eight-part series delivers on these big promises, mostly. It revolves around the honest but ‘underperforming’ inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) of the Mumbai Police, who is constantly at loggerheads with his superiors as he refuses to toe the line. All things change for Singh with a proverbial late-night phone call from ‘God’ himself — the elusive showrunner of the mafia G-Company — Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, very much in his comfort but repetitive zone). And that’s how the game begins.
The resultant events open a pandora’s box. The unholy nexus between the underworld, politicians, and law enforcement is revealed, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, right from the days of Deewar and Satya to the BBC’s recent McMafia, which has a Mumbai arc. The Mumbai crime and mafia world seems to have a strange hold on popular imagination and the lure and seduction have not dimmed with time or exposure. The series exists in two timelines — one with Singh and the other with Gaitonde as the epicentre — and are helmed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap respectively. And yes in true Bollywood style there is a connection between the two, akin to a pichle janam ka rishta tangent — which makes their timelines collide in the first place.
Saif’s portrayal of Sartaj Singh leaves you a bit dissatisfied, in the same way when the last piece of the pie is taken away from you. He has the look, the physique and the angst of an honest sardar cop, but the anxiety-laden screams, the expletives he bellows out — all because there is no water in the house — detract from the portrayal.
But what keeps you glued to the screen — irrespective of its size — is the powerful screen play by Phantom writer Varun Grover. It flows effortlessly, and never does one feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. The dialogues refer to many current happenings, and are ripe with filmi overtones. The philosophical undertones which were quite subtle in the novel, take on a much pronounced form in the series, right till the name of the episodes — ‘Aswathama’, ‘Halahal’, ‘Atapi’, ‘Vatapi’ and ‘Brahmahatya’. The other writers too — Smita Singh and Vasant Nath have done a commendable job of adapting the highly detailed novel. The novel itself was quite evocative, weaving images of burgundy shoes, a green sofa and sequinned sarees to the distinct marathi flavour in the dialogues spoken by the constables. The detailing lends itself well to the screen— be it the kada worn by Sartaj Singh, or the long-collared, full sleeved shirts sported by Gaitonde, reminiscent of the ’80s, the details make it worth your while, binge-wise. Sacred Games also belongs to the smaller character actors — the series has an entire army of them — who even in their supportive roles leave a memorable mark. Neeraj Kabi, Amir Bashir, Surveen Chawla, Pankaj Tripathi, the list is very long. Casting director Mukesh Chabbhra has a veritable casting coup on his hands.
For those who have read the original source material — the novel Sacred Games — they might find the series a bit jarring with regards to certain plot developments. But they only make the show edgier and more layered. Perhaps this is why even after the first four episodes, you are still undecided whom to root for. Which should register as a win in such games.
The series will premiere on Netflix on July 6