A flawed hero who isn’t catching a break in his career as a police officer and a depraved gangster who walks around with a saviour complex makes Sacred Games an unholy, but a disturbingly persuasive watch.
Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan makes his digital plunge with Sacred Games, a Netflix Original series out on July 6, as the troubled pill-popping police officer Sartaj Singh. There’s nothing heroic about this disillusioned lead player and that adds to a viewer’s intrigue who are used to big actors like Khan throwing their weight around on the big screen.
Sartaj is no crowning success with his superiors or his estranged wife, but his morose existence gets an adrenalin shot when an elusive gangster Ganesh Gaitonde, played chillingly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, gives him a call.
Their fateful encounter sets this eight-part series in motion as the savage world of gangsters and cops is brought to life in all its shabby splendour.
“Do you believe in God? But God doesn’t give a [expletive]!,” is the ominous opening line of this gritty and grey gangster saga.
It’s an accurate cue to the show’s irreverent and sacrilegious undertones where there’s no honour left among thugs or cops.
Directors Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap adopt a non-linear format of storytelling where we get to see Gaitonde’s rise to power as a ruthless, morally-corrupt underworld kingpin and also to his days of decline when he goes underground, but re-surfaces and cherry picks Singh to play dangerous mind games with life-altering consequences. Mumbai is under siege and Sartaj Singh has less than a month to save it from annihilation.
Like any good Netflix series worth its salt, directors Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap take their time to draw us into this fractured world set on the mean streets of the Mumbai metropolis. The first episodes gives us a searing peek into men with skewed moral compasses.
If a mobster like Gaitonde has no compunction of putting a bullet in his feisty mole’s head, then the law enforcement officers aren’t any better as they take pride in police brutality like gunning down an unarmed teenager by conveniently branding him a terrorist.
The series is a welcome distraction from the usual Bollywood gangster epics which tend to glorify the world of crime and grime in a glossy manner. There has been no attempt at sanitising Mumbai into a gleaming, sparkling city.
The depravity isn’t dolled up to make it palatable for the viewers either. Women being knifed and stones slammed into heads are a way of life in Sacred Games. The gore may not be for the faint-hearted.
And the gravy? The heroes and villains don’t break out into a song and dance in between a bullet-riddled climax.
The setting is uniformly bleak in Sacred Games and a grim pallor of doom looms large, but yet you feel giddy from all the action that’s unleashed. Here, the players seemed to be trapped in their own violent, warped existences.
Based on the best-seller by Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games delves into the seamier side of Mumbai where mobsters, movie stars, local politicians and corrupt cops collude for power and personal gains. Due to its non-linear format of narration, it may be slightly tough to keep up with the twists, betrayals and double crossing, but don’t give up hope as the directors have superb command over their material.
Khan and Siddiqui are splendid in their roles, while actress Radhika Apte is studiously restrained as an unassuming and scrupulous RAW agent. Their arc is studiously slow, but that shouldn’t let you give up on Sacred Games. The momentum and sense of urgency builds up after the first two episodes in this ambitious series.
It’s thrilling and is a perfect antidote to Bollywood gangster flicks that paints its villains and heroes in broad strokes. Here, you aren’t sure whether you are rooting for the morally bankrupt or the emotionally stunted. But whichever side you choose, Sacred Games plays fair in the business of entertaining and sending a chill down your spine.
Don’t miss it!
Sacred Games is out on Netflix on July 6.