Sacred Games is the first Netflix India original series. It is in vogue now, so you couldn’t have missed hearing about it. I recall purchasing the book many years ago for my birthday. It had almost become a tradition to gift myself these voluminous books – from Sacred Games to A Suitable Boy, and borrowing Shantaram from a friend, around my birthday too. While Shantaram was an elaborate but great read, Sacred Games wasn’t in the beginning. Having grown up in Calcutta, I was pretty used to and I used (not prettily) Bangla curses. But when it came to the Hindi ones, I winced a bit. There resided, probably a little Sanskaari me within, who felt uncomfortable. Years pass by and I laugh at my hypocrisy now. It feels like those memes – “If you can’t take me at my Hindi C word, you don’t deserve me at my Bangla B word.” True.
You must have known by now that Sacred Games hasn’t been so sacred to Indian viewers as it contains a lot of cuss words. I have a word or two on this before I write about the other details of the series. There has been a lot of debate in India about the use of cuss words by authors. Should they or shouldn’t they? Not even if the character or situation demands? Aren’t cuss words used in life, by all strata of people? From the posh English F word to the brazen Marathi M word – aren’t they expressions of frustration, anger, loss, joy, solitude, vulnerability, impotence? There’s cursing when you actually mean to hurt the other, and then there’s cursing as a figure of speech, a few to even manifest the bonhomie between friends. The mutual understanding of profanities creates a certain bond among gangsters who live on the edge, each day. It renders them a sense of power and strength over ordinary citizens who wince, like most us, before those words. Many of you would ask if I am justifying cursing in daily life. No way I would! Don’t curse your employer or mother-in-law, for obvious reasons. I use them only among friends as it gives a feeling of liberation – to be able to express your emotions before certain people who wouldn’t judge you for the words. I guess gangsters or police don’t care about anyone judging them, or they wouldn’t have cursed so often.
Sacred Games, the book, is an outcome of research spanning seven years by Vikram Chandra. He had received a million dollar advance from his publishers for this epic cop-gangster saga. But these are only trivia that might appear in some social media quiz contests. Sacred Games, the Netflix series, is trending for the interesting social experiment that it has turned out to be. I am not very warm to film adaptations of books in general, so my expectations were optimal. The first person to have exceeded them is the writer, Varun Grover. It is not easy to re-write such a huge book with intricate details for filming, but Varun has done his job par excellence, introducing contemporary political scenarios from India, most of which are damn relevant. Next in queue to be felicitated are the directors – Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. I haven’t yet watched such beautiful blending of two tracks directed by two different people in Indian films. Did you know that the track of Sartaj Singh (the cop) is directed by Motwane and that of Ganesh Gaitonde (the gangster) by Kashyap? Cinema can dazzle with brilliance if such artists sync their creative trails. There are few adaptations and cinematic liberty that have made the series more enduring (than the book) – the primary one is Cuckoo. I have read in interviews that it was Anurag Kashyap’s idea to expand Cuckoo’s character and give her a proper track instead of just the ‘cabaret dancer’ tag in the book. Et voila! Cuckoo turned out to be one of my favourite characters in the series. Kubbra Sait was phenomenal as Cuckoo and I wouldn’t have guessed what ‘Cuckoo ka jaadu’ was had it not been shown.
I don’t understand the technicalities of cinema, but I am the audience. What appeals to me is the cast, the frames, the colours, the dialogues, the sound, even the costumes. All of these, apart from the acting prowess, which I am no expert of. I can say how I loved Rajshri Deshpande as Gaitonde’s wife Subhadra, her ‘daring’ to do ‘bold’ scenes as well as the vulnerability that the character displays. I can say how I admired Jitendra Joshi as Constable Katekar for his surreal performance that would be remembered for long. The usual suspects are, well, usually good – Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte and Neeraj Kabi. But I must thank the casting director to have sprung the big surprise named Saif Ali Khan as Inspector Sartaj Singh. The deconstruction of his glamorous image into a beaten, bruised, deserted forty plus policeman has been successful, at least for me. I was apprehensive of him playing the role, but Motwane seems to have moulded him well to not over-perform. I hope we will have more of Pankaj Tripathi in the next season as I immensely admire the man.
Sacred Games has a lot to offer from politics to religion to love and raw hatred. The two primary wheels that drive the Indian society – politics and religion – are the main protagonists in the story, not Sartaj or Gaitonde. Each episode has been carefully named around mythological stories or life lessons, depending on how you perceive it. There is a lot to be taken from the series, even if you haven’t read the book. Thank heavens for Netflix that a story as powerful as this could be crafted with its original essence and served with better garnish, atop the plague of mediocrity.