Yayati was a Puranic king and an ancestor of the Pandavas. Legend has it that he was cursed with old age during his prime by Shukracharya, the priest of the Asuras, which he later exchanged with his Son Puru to regain his youth. The season Finale of Sacred Game is titled ‘Yayati’ and it is in this episode where we get a proper glimpse of Sartaj Singh’s (Saif Ali Khan) father Dilbagh Singh. Also, Sartaj unsnarls the loose ends of his father’s ties with Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) which had been hinted earlier. Each episode of Sacred Games uses elements such as this from the Hindu Mythology to hint at the theme of the episode.
Sacred Games is unflinching and unsparing. It remains true to the Vikram Chandra’s eponymous book and narrates a story which takes names and references significant political events of the 80s and 90s which shaped Mumbai (referred throughout the series by it’s old name Bombay). It chronicles the rise and demise of Ganesh Gaitonde, a shrewd crime lord who reappears after 15 years in hiding, only to narrate his story to Saif’s character and serve an ominous warning to him and the city in general. What follows next is the entire investigation of Sartaj and RAW agent Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte) into the dirty crime empire created by Gaitonde and his aides.
Netflix is banking heavily on India for it’s next 100 million subscribers. And if Sacred Games is any indication, they are going full throttle to produce some quality adaptations and movies. The series has the universal cop and gangster plot with religion forming the crux and the criminal history of Mumbai by-lanes as the backdrop. Netflix has seen recent success in following the same theme in the critically acclaimed Israeli thriller ‘Fauda’, which has become the most watched non-english show on the platform. With Sacred Games they not only put gritty screenplay at the forefront but also succeed in bringing an ensemble which will be the envy of any top production house. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap stitch together a story which follows different timelines, character arcs and plots to give us some riveting content ever to have come out of any Indian show. Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath have adapted the story and need to be applauded for making it a binge-fest like no other.
But the story hinges on the sturdy shoulders of the great Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the carefully restrained Saif Ali Khan. As a jaded police officer whose personal life is falling apart and who has been a failure on the professional front as well, Saif gives a measured performance with conflict and bravery demonstrated at every sequence. One day when he gets a call from the notorious criminal Ganesh Gaitonde who had been undercover for more than a decade, his entire life changes and he becomes involved in a much larger cause, that of saving the city he claims to protect. Mumbai is used as a character in the series. Both the directors give it a dark, sinister canvas and captures the pulse of the danger lurking in every corner. No one is sparred. From politicians to cops to criminals, everyone seems to be holding a secret in their hearts. That makes for some great viewing! It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to speak of this series in the same breath as Narcos, the Sopranos and even The Wire.
Nawaz plays a Tony Soprano-like ambitious crime lord who grows from the down up by being sheer opportunistic and believing he is the God of Mumbai. His story unfurls as a series of phone calls in the first episode before it becomes a flashback as Sartaj goes about solving the case of his life. Anurag Kashyap helms the Ganesh Gaitonde story and he brings back the flair which was last seen in his magnum opus Gangs of Wasseypur. Nawaz seems to be carrying forward his Faisal Khan from the 2012 blockbuster as he kills with cold blood and creates an empire based on his ideologies as well as his craft as a sinful mastermind. Motwane directs the Sartaj Singh story and weaves together various elements which hinder as well as facilitate the journey towards saving the city. The most noteworthy scenes here are the ones where they justify the actions of each character and also bind them to the ongoing events across Indian polity and the growing influence of religious fundamentalism.
Sacred Games will not be anything close to the masterpiece it is without the supporting cast. The most noteworthy among them being Kubra Sait as the transgender Cuckoo who plays Gaitonde’s love interest and Jitendra Joshi as constable Katekar. The equation between Katekar and Sartaj is beautifully captured and often gives a buddy-cop movie feel. Whereas Kubra is fantastic in the role of the cabaret dancer who is hard on the exterior but vulnerable inside because of a secret she is hiding. The background music of the series adds to the tension and makes every scene riveting.
Sacred Games is a home run for Netflix in it’s very first attempt. It captures Mumbai and the underbelly of crime in it’s most gloomy avatar and gives us a story which is both captivating as well as rich with emotions.
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