Netflix is spreading its reach all over the world. In this attempt, the digital giant enters the Indian market full-on with its first Indian original, Sacred Games. It’s also a way to offer a different kind of material to its international audiences.
Does Sacred Games work for the global audience? Yes, brilliantly. There are some cultural references which are very specific to the Indian subcontinent. However, you would not feel bored a single moment.
Sacred Games sets the bar very high for future productions in India.
In the series, which debuted this month, Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is an honest cop in Mumbai who is frustrated to work in the corrupt system. One day, he gets a call from an anonymous person who sits like a king before a bank of computer monitors, distorting his voice and masking his location.
Soon, Singh realises that the caller is none other than Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), once a godfather type of figure in Mumbai, who’s been missing for years and presumed dead. He touches emotional wounds of Singh with the information that he knew his father, another honest cop (or so the son thinks), and warns him of a terrible but unspecified event that will strike Mumbai in 25 days.
After this, Gaitonde starts telling his story to Singh. The story is so appealing that Singh wants to know more with every minute passing. So does the audience: The narrative of Gaitonde’s rise from a poor man to godfather of Mumbai pulls you right in. Many characters appear, and every one of them is impressive.
The situation gets complicated when Indian Intelligence starts listening in on the phone call. As a viewer, you want to know more about Gaitonde and the fate of Mumbai. Can Singh save the city?
If something has worked in this series without any flaw, that is the directing.
The performances are stellar. The director duo has managed to get everything out of their actors. The casting directors have gone for actors who can perform (in contrast to the star-driven Indian film industry).
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is flawless and comfortable in his role. You believe and feel with Gaitonde, and his story is like a scorpion – once it stings you, you’re done for. The actor consistently gives excellent performances, but this time he has outdone himself.
Saif Ali Khan has perhaps given one of the best performances of his film career, comparable to his performance in Omkara. Singh is vulnerable but still brave.
RAW analyst Anjali Mathur, portrayed by Radhika Apte, brings us into another uncomfortable zone: sexism in the workplace. Her performance is excellent. You would believe every emotion expressed by her.
Rajshri Deshpande plays the role of Subhadra Gaitonde, wife of Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawaz). Her entry is almost in the middle of Season 1, but within no time you will love Subhadra. You feel her love, her dreams, and her fears. Every time Nawaz and Rajshri appear together on the screen, you do not want to blink.
Rajshri keeps you involved every second she is on the screen. Surveen Chawla has also given a stellar performance. Even all the people in the supporting roles have done a marvellous job.
If you are not from the Indian subcontinent, you can still watch it. There might be a few references (especially comical situations) which might not be clear to you. However, you would still catch the thrill. Gaitonde’s world is like a spider net, and it will not release you easily.
By Ravi Gautam
Ravi is a director and scriptwriter based in Leipzig. He is a member of the Deutsche Akademie für Fernsehen. He has submitted a PhD thesis in Physics, and on his spare time enjoys singing, mountain climbing, nature, story writing, and, of course, watching films. Ravi is active in animal protection campaigns, and he also supports the Nabhangan Foundation in India, which works for farmers.
Sacred Games (Netflix original)
Language: Available in Hindi / English / Spanish / Turkish
Tagline: “Do you believe in God? God doesn’t give a fuck.”
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, Rajshri Deshpande, Surveen Chawla
Directors: Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane