SACRED GAMES Review : The Righteous. The Ruthless.

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The new Netflix Original Sacred Games is not an easy watch at all. You know it in the very first frame of the web series. You know it even more by the time you have completed the last episode of season 1. The later especially is bound to leave you deeply disturbed and in a state of shock for an extended period of time. Must confess that I am still traumatized to an extent, the content in many places is way too dark for me. And yet, it is still a terrific watch because of its fabulously smart direction, taut writing and screenplay, outstanding lead performances, extraordinary support cast, great production values, finely blended background score, sharp cinematography and seamless editing, all of which come together to narrate an extremely gripping tale.

I have not read Vikram Chandra‘s book yet, so I am not sure how much has the screenplay deviated from the original content. But what has come together on screen as the first original hindi web series is dark, gritty, sharp and sensational enough to place it as a very high benchmark of what the other planned productions will need to match up to. And that is wonderful news for anyone who is always craving to watch well made local content on international platforms.

Writers Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath definitely start with an advantage here because they had a very good base material to work with, but what they do with it to make it screen ready deserves a huge applause. Its their terrific writing that makes every single character on the screen significant even if they have small roles. The dialogs oscillate between heavy handed and dramatic to smart and sharp as needed by the characters or the situation. The writing hence provides a strong documented perspective of the religious, political, bureaucratic, ethical and even personal lives and sentiments of the dark and dirty by-lanes of Mumbai reeling under the heavy influence of a deadly underworld, foreign mafia, corrupt law and order, and zero ethics politics.

When a material this good is delivered to the likes of Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, its but natural that they will weave their magic into it to create something sensational, and they do. Uniquely shot, where Motwane brilliantly holds and reign of the contemporary track primarily featuring Saif Ali Khan, while Kashyap deals with the flashback track featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a typical Kashyapisque brazenly dark style, its commendable to see how the viewer is taken on a roller coaster ride in each episode flipping seamlessly between these two tracks working on two different timescales, but telling a coherent tightly coupled story with very similar texture. I personally felt that Motwane definitely takes the trophy for Season 1 – his track is far more gripping, feels more fresh and remains highly intriguing in its narrative throughout. It doesn’t miss a single beat. On the other hand, while Kashyap works in his comfort zone and does shows his flashes of brilliance in many places, we have mostly seen a lot of it in his previous work. His film-making also becomes increasingly indulgent as the story progresses which in a way cannibalizes the sharpness of narrative in some places, along with some distinct over the top creative lapses. I hope to see the gap between these two styles being bridged in the next season.

All the performances are extremely good and its difficult to find flaws even in smaller roles. But the man who has to get the top acting honors for this season is the absolutely brilliant Saif Ali Khan. In a extremely brave performance as inspector Sartaj Singh, Saif captures it all – his vulnerability, his sense of feeling nothing, his pain, his anguish, his solitude, his helplessness, his drive to prove himself, his susceptibility to situations, everything. His performance has all the assertion and all the sensitivity needed at the same time, and I am hoping to see it further grow in what awaits us. Nawazuddin Siddiqui or Ganesh Gaitonde as the other parallel lead, is outstanding as well and other than his accent which is flawed without any traces of marathi influence, he gets the rest of it on point. The man and his mentor both know what he can deliver and that is dully squeezed out on screen, just that there is again a sense of been there seen that with this character arc as well though this one is as dark as it can get. But there is very little to complain honestly and overall Nawaz’s Gaitonde stands very tall – pun fully intended in every possible way.

Both these terrific acts are brilliantly supported by an outstanding supporting cast. Radhika Apte is perfectly natural and delivers a perfectly pitched act as Anjali Mathur, the RAW agent. I was hoping for her to have some more screen time, but there was possibly not enough scope for that without compromising on the tight screenplay. For me, the other standout performances of this season are – the ever reliable Neeraj Kabi as Paluskar, a brilliant Jitendra Joshi as Katekar, perfectly cast Girish Kulkarni as Bhosle, and the powerful Rajshri Deshpande as Subhadra. Everyone else is adequate in themselves as well. And yes, if the end of Season 1 is any indication, I am anxiously looking forward to a significantly meaty role from my absolute favorite Pankaj Tripathi in the next season, as well as something brilliant from Surveen Chawla too.

There are many fantastic moments in this series, and there are a couple that absolutely stand out. One is a beautifully sensitive and heartfelt conversation between Sartaj Singh and Katekar on the beach, something rare in a screenplay like this. The other one has to be the parallel interrogation scenes of Sartaj and Anjali and how they stand for or against the right. The third one is the entire montage of events that Sartaj and Gaitonde go through in the final episode of terribly shocking trauma and pain. Unbelievable stuff!

Hoping for Season 2 to be bigger and better. May be that means darker and more disturbing in Sacred Games terms, so be it! In a world where religion is the biggest business and man is the most dangerous animal, nothing comes easy!

Doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not!

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