There are no spoilers here, so read on.
There have been many novels on Mumbai - her colours, her colourful nights and her many poisoned tongues. But what makes Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games unique is that it does not pander to the white man. It wears its lingo like a lungi - tight and snug - not once bothering to explain to the goras what the words mean. There have been many novels that claim to be ‘of Bombay’ and ‘by Bombay’, but Chandra’s novel is truly ‘for Bombay’.
Adapting a novel into an engaging screenplay is difficult, more so if it is a 900-page epic that needs to be adapted for a generation with no patience for opening credits and intros. Add to it the fact that we Indians do not really understand binge-watching.
A few local series launched with a new episode every week, and others like Inside Edge could force you to get a brain MRI done. Despite all our cultural heterogeneity, we haven’t been able to come up with engaging, meme worthy content. For me, Sacred Games changes all that.
I kept my Friday completely free – canceling all appointments and sacrificing the FIFA World Cup match. It must be said here that I possess all the focal abilities of a cockroach, which is why I was skeptical. Will it retain my interest? By the end of episode 1, I was rolling a J and ready to go to the second. By the end of the series, I had a sore throat, and ONE disappointment – that the show wasn’t longer!
Writers Smita Singh, Vasanth Nath and Varun Grover do an enviable job at skimming without skimping. But the real hero of the series is Kashyap’s editor Aarti Bajaj. Having edited all his work from Paanch to Mukkabaaz, Bajaj ensures that the series feels both monumental and binge-worthy. Like its source material, the show does not once pause to take a shortcut, nor does it make it easy for you to catch up.
We arrive on the scene as Sartaj Singh - a Sikh police officer too honest for his own good - gets a call from gangster Ganesh Gaitonde. These are two unlikely souls to connect, in a world where happiness is one twist away from cruelty and pain.
But why Sartaj? Why would an upright cop get a call from Gaitonde - a man whose many tentacles are spread deep into the heart of the city - its veins the large pipes, its arteries the thin by lanes.
Saif’s scenes have been directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, and Nawaz’s scenes by Anurag Kashyap. This works wonderfully, as Motwane lends Saif a brooding exterior, and Kashyap makes Nawaz simmer. The two characters are starkly different, Saif plunges into the Chakravyuh like Abhimanyu – noble and virtuous. Nawaz is part-Shakuni, part-Bheeshma.
This heady concoction of shared responsibilities is what gives Sacred Games its freshness. We have seen Kashyap depict gangsters, and Motwane depict sons under mighty fathers. But instead of diverging, the two tracks meet for a thrilling ride. TV shows and web-series hinge largely on the performances, and the director duo bring out the best from an already dependable cast.
Luke Kenny turns macabre, Marathi actor Jitendra Joshi is in top form, as are Girish Kulkarni and Rajshri Deshpande. And in a surprising case, the stars of the film bring their best to the table.
Credit to Saif Ali Khan for putting his money where his balls are. While other superstars are surviving on patriotism or cocaine, Saif Ali Khan is exploring new territories, risking it all with every new venture (ignoring the Airbnb ads).
Radhika Apte has now become predictably good with every project. Kubra Sait shines in what will go down as the cameo of the year. But the series rests firmly on the frail, drooping shoulders of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Constantly saddled with dark shades, Nawaz comes up with a new bag of tricks every single time. The absolute authority with which he plays Gaitonde - a man whose destiny is written with a rusty razor - is commendable. The violence tires him and turns him on. It represents who he is, and yet Gaitonde isn’t the violence. It is heartening to see Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s success. In the cesspool that is Bollywood, he is the only one who seems worthy of rooting for.
But more than anything else, Sacred Games is a victory for Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. For years, they have been fighting an impotent Censor Board and inane public taste. In a space free of government disclaimers every time a character farts, where you need to prove your patriotism at the beginning, where the government peeks into the screen every few seconds - the duo paint the canvas with bold, bright and stark colours.
It has shades of Breaking Bad, but there’s no real ‘breaking’ to be done here. They have all broken bad, it’s just a matter of when you see their ugly insides. What the series demands is fascination, of the morbid variety. It doesn’t allow you to invest emotionally or ‘like’ any character - it is too cool for that. Characters are cut to size just as they begin to seem heroic. And that works just fine for me. I’m too cynical to like anyone anyway.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: hamariweb.com