Netflix’s push to grow international original content diversified further last week when the streaming platform launched the Indian-origin series “Sacred Games.” After successfully setting shop in India in early 2016, it only makes sense for Netflix to take advantage of the country’s rising consumers and an already established entertainment industry. “Sacred Games” is the perfect launch vehicle for that.
Based on Vikram Chandra’s acclaimed novel, “Sacred Games” has a familiar yet complex trope to entice local viewers but also a global audience: a low-level and honest cop chasing an evil gangster. However, the most alluring aspect of the show is the fact that it’s set in Mumbai, India. The city takes a life of its own here, providing a plethora of characters. This includes Saif Ali Khan’s police officer Sartaj Singh, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s villainous Ganesh Gaitonde, and Radhika Apte‘s intelligence officer Anjali Mathur.
Sartaj is a mild-mannered, moral Mumbai police officer who doesn’t have the respect of his seniors but does have close friends on the force, probably the only friends in his life. The rest of the force, especially those in charge, thrive on corruption. One night, everything begins changing for Sartaj when he receives a mysterious call from Ganesh Gaitonde, a wanted crime lord who has been MIA for the last 15 years. Ganesh warns him of an imminent threat to the city in the next 25 days and hints of a connection he had with Sartaj’s dead father.
This is the starting point of the series and from here the show splits into two timelines.
The first is in the present where we see Sartaj, along with his some help from RAW agent Anjali Mathur, set out on a journey to find out why Ganesh contacted him. The other timeline is presented in flashbacks and told from Ganesh’s perspective. He explains how he went from being a nobody to a local criminal mastermind. The show also involves other subplots, all of which are connected and start making sense as the show progresses.
“Sacred Games” imbibes a lot of local flavor to itself in the eight episodes and gives viewers a glimpse into the city culture; at least the culture that Sartaj and Ganesh are familiar with. From a seedy underbelly in the slums of Mumbai to the dynamic growth of the infrastructure, “Sacred Games” makes a sincere effort to show it all.
The stereotype of Bollywood movies is that they’re full of song and dance routines and colorful imagery. However, the filmmakers have taken advantage of the lack of extreme censorship a platform like Netflix provides. “Sacred Games” is full of cussing, violence, nudity, and sex scenes. It’s not something you see in Bollywood movies. It’s as new for Indian audiences as it is for those around the world. It’s also a welcome change.
“Sacred Games” focuses solely on excellent storytelling and acting. Despite a few obvious plot points, the show packs quite the punch with its twists and turns. What’s not surprising, however, is the direction and acting. Directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane have set a new standard with their work. Alokananda Dasgupta, the composer for the show, elevates every scene with her choice of music.
The three protagonists are all well-known Bollywood stars who put their game face on for “Sacred Games.” Khan’s Sartaj Singh is a troubled police officer and he never fails to show it in his expressions. His work is subtle but nuanced, especially when he is getting bullied by his superiors or when he faces emotional losses. It makes you want to automatically root for Sartaj to come out of this ordeal as a winner. Apte, who was excellent in Netflix’s “Lust Stories,” bring the ambitious, frustrated Anjali to life like a total pro.
Siddiqui is the automatic standout of the show. His Ganesh Gaitonde is cold-hearted and manipulative yet crumbles into tears when things go south for him. Siddiqui aces the variety of emotions and mannerisms, letting the character completely take over. He is astounding from start to end.
The series works so well because the supporting cast, especially Neeraj Kabi as Sartaj’s boss DCP Parulkar and Shalini Vatsa as Ganesh’s honorary mother figure Kanta Bai, are prolific in their roles.
“Sacred Games,” which is being compared the Colombia-set Netflix original “Narcos,” also needs subtitles for viewing if you don’t understand the language. Most of the dialogues are in Hindi. However, that shouldn’t be a deterrent because the show is easy to consume, highly riveting even.
It’s an excellent start in the Indian-origin content arena for Netflix. It might even be a complete game-changer for how the country starts making its shows and movies for themselves and the world. It opens up avenues for different, compelling storytelling. It’s already clear not just because of “Sacred Games” but also because of Netflix’s other projects in India, including the romantic-comedy “Love Per Square Foot,” sex and love-themed anthology “Lust Stories,” and the upcoming Apte-starrer supernatural show “Ghoul.”
“Sacred Games” will reel you in with its magnetic leads, compelling visuals and narratives, and the quick pace with which the story tries to resolve itself. It does end on a slightly big cliffhanger, which hopefully is an indication that Netflix and the producers plan to continue telling the story of Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde. We’ll be here for it when it happens.
“Sacred Games” season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.