The FIFA World Cup’s final face-off was not the only event dominating television screens this July. Netflix India launched its first ever Indian web series Sacred Games — an adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s acclaimed novel of the same name. Starring Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte and others, the first season of Sacred Games comes packed with eight episodes — each one more riveting than the next.
The first episode begins with Inspector Sartaj Singh (Khan) grappling with his superiors in a moral conflict. But a mysterious phone call from an unknown man (Siddiqui) reels him into a dark, twisty and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that could apparently end in the destruction of Maximum City. Siddiqui plays Ganesh Eknath Gaitonde, son of a pious Brahmin who becomes an infamous gangster. Minutes before killing himself, Gaitonde predicts an ominous end for Mumbai in 25 days to the distraught Khan. What unfurls is a wild goose chase of disconnected but vital clues behind Gaitonde’s last words, as well as a parallel depiction of Gaitonde’s life in 80’s Bombay.
One word for the show — explosive. Netflix India took a massive gamble with this as their maiden show in India, and Season 1 knocks it out of the park.
The show, directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, transports you into the world of gangsters, crime and corruption. There are multiple references to political events in 80s and 90s India, which sets the context for present-day Indian politics, culture and society.
Even though the show has established stars like Khan, Siddiqui and Apte, the other characters stole the show. Marathi theatre actor Jitendra Joshi, who plays constable Katekar and a trusted colleague of Singh, walked away with much of the applause. Be it his endearing smile that seems to say, “life sucks but you gotta smile through it anyway” to the burning rage in his eyes that don’t hide his xenophobia, Joshi aces it effortlessly. As show writer Varun Grover mentioned in a Reddit AMA that Jitendra Joshi surprised him the most with his stellar performance and that he would be totally open to a Netflix special on Katekar.
We are with Grover on this one. Another surprise element for me was Jatin Sarna, who plays Deepak “Bunty” Shinde — a loyal supporter of Gaitonde who harbours deep communal hatred towards Muslims. Sarna, also a theatre artist, holds his own as the hot-headed, rage-filled Bunty. To be able to do this with a brilliant actor like Siddiqui in the same frame is no easy talk!
This review would be incomplete without the mention of Kuckoo ka Jadoo. Kuckoo, played by namma hudugi Kubra Sait, is the arm candy of gangster Suleiman Isa, Gaitonde”s sworn rival. Sait’s baritone voice, height and sharp facial features make her appear captivating onscreen each time. A special mention to Luke Kenny, who unfortunately doesn’t have much to say but he sure does a lot in his fleeting appearances. The last episode finally lets viewers in on who he is. Hopefully, if there is a next season, he’s one character we’d like to see more of.
With Sacred Games, Indian television dares to reinvent itself for a young audience. An actor like Saif switching to television only proves content is king, and good stories will always draw talent and attention. The new breed of actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte prove that one can juggle mainstream masala.
What’s endearing is that you walk away impressed not just by the main three actors but also Neeraj Kabi, Rajshri Deshpande and Shalini Vatsa, among others. If you’re a bibliophile, read the book. If you’re a serioholic, watch the show.