TV ODYSSEY : SACRED GAMES

I started my journey with Netflix from their first ever original – House of Cards. Since then, the streaming platform has constantly delivered with shows that are immensely binge-worthy, different in its form and content from others but with one or two little traits that will always remind you that you’re watching a Netflix show. I won’t say they are the pioneers at making originals, but the kind of globalized content that they make helps me easily connect with a Netflix show better than many of the network TV shows which (obviously) aim just for the American audience. It’s a platform where any show from any part of the world can become a major talk-of-town any day. Pablo Escobar, for instance, wasn’t known to the general crowd until Narcos landed and the world was gripped by his story.

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So when a content-generating giant like this one decides to create original from our country, it’s a moment of pride, excitement and hope for us fanatics.

Pride, because our Indian talents will get a huge platform to shine and be thumb-nailed right besides some of the most world-renowned content.

Excitement because it’s Netflix, who pays special attention to the names being attached to any project and you know that the decisions would not be influenced by their commercial holdings.

And hope, for the gamble to work. For everything to fall into place and the final product being as good as it promises to be.

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That day, that dream is finally here in flesh. In the name of Sacred Games, a book adaptation of the Vikram Chandra novel of the same name helmed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. It includes a principal cast ranging from Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui to Radhika Apte and  Neeraj Kabi. To anyone who has a fair know-how of the Hindi film industry would know that the names attached here are easily the best in business.

It is a product of pride, and it did raise our excitement levels. The question is – does it live upto our hopes?

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Right from its opening scene, you will be reminded that you’re watching a Netflix show. It starts with a shocker and prepares its audiences quite early on as to what’s in store ahead. We get the opening credits which is full of style. While we’re at it, a huge shoutout to Rachita Arora and Alokananda Dasgupta for an exquisite, brilliant music – in the opening and background, which is another forte for many Netflix shows.

Once you look beyond all that, Sacred Games is an out-and-out Kashyap-styled movie, only in the form of a series. Motwane was more involved in the project and Kashyap joined in later, but the themes, tone and even the city of “Bombay” are Kashyap’s playground.

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Which showed in the Gaitonde storyline, directed by the man himself. The past portions were directed by him and Motwane directed the present storyline. Saif and Apte, as Inspector Sartaj Singh and RAW officer Anjali Mathur respectively, were the principle cast in the present one. Both these characters weren’t developed enough which made that portion lesser interesting among the two. Or perhaps, Nawaz shined so bright, that the others just couldn’t catch up.

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It’s been almost 6 years since I took due notice of a Nawaz performance in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani. Since then, he has been consistently brilliant. What’s astonishing is that he manages to play the same kind of roles multiple times and still bring something new to it. Gaitonde (Sacred Games) is different from Faizal (Gangs of Wasseypur) who is different from Ramanna (Raman Raghav 2.0)  – all with negative shades, damaged souls and corrupted minds. It might also be Nawaz’s most author-backed role with writers  Smita Singh, Vasant Nath and Varun Grover giving him a solid material. And Nawaz being Nawaz, chews on it entirely. He also gets away with the best lines.

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Neeraj Kabi as DCP Parulkar gives a stoic, cold performance and ably works on his equations with both Sartaj and Gaitonde. The plot also has space to put limelight on smaller characters like Kanta Bai (played by Shalini Vatsa) and Katekar (Jitendra Joshi) who leave an impact among rest of the ensemble.

Direction, writing, music, production and performances – the show does score on all fronts and it can easily be called one of the best shows we have had for a long long while. But the players here aren’t local. It’s global domination we are looking at.

And when you start comparing it with the likes of Germany’s Dark, England’s The Crown, Spain’s Money Heist or Brazil’s 3%, the show isn’t truly standing out. The narrative doesn’t pack in much suspense and thrill than some of these shows. Sure, it is not necessary for the show to have it all, but I don’t see it being the “talk-of-town” in rest of the world.

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If you give the show its own space, see it as an Indian show, you might appreciate it better. I was thoroughly impressed by the interweave of real political events into the fictional setup, the themes it explores and the efforts put in to make it Indian and authentic. As clichéd and overused the term might be, but I truly believe Netflix is at the right direction. It is an impressive debut. The Netflix fan in me isn’t disappointed!

Sacred Games is immensely watchable, well written and well executed. It might not put out a storm overseas, but we will slowly get there. Until then, join the bandwagon and experience the joy of watching India’s first Netflix Original series. 

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