Loyalty dies in the very first scene of Netflix’s Sacred Games. As the camera zooms into a quintessential Mumbai high rise, we see a dog flung outside, descending towards the concrete floor. It lands right in front of a few children waiting for their school bus. The appalling visual is a necessary precursor to another gruesome scene – gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddique) putting a bullet through one of his trusted aides of nearly two decades. The shocking violence on display, announces the showrunner’s intentions to leverage on the license to go fully bonkers afforded by the platform. It also doesn’t hold back on the cussing, something few people expect Saif to be so fluent in, and patiently wait for in a Nawazuddin performance.
Based on the 2006 bestseller by Vikram Chandra, the show tells the story of an idealistic cop, Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan), and how his life changes on the day he gets a phone call from a gangster ‘presumed dead’ for 17 years. A majority of this first episode, Ashwathama, is spent listening to the phone call Gaitonde makes to Sartaj Singh to warn him about how ‘everyone’s going to die in 25 days’. However, he gets to that only eventually – the way he hooks Sartaj into the conversation is by telling him about his father, Dilbagh Singh – another honest cop whose foot-steps Sartaj is trying to follow.
The Sacred Games pilot fills you with gratitude for a lot of things. First of all, to see two A-list actors chewing away at the possibility of inhabiting character-arcs that last longer than the usual 120 minutes. To see two stunning directors being given a free rein by a platform, to tell their story with a degree of authenticity, few producers have allowed them to. It’s stunning to see a supporting cast including the likes of Radhika Apte, Neeraj Kabi and Aamir Bashir surrendering themselves to the vision of Vikram Chandra’s novel.
There is another consummate surrender in this film, that of the most significant supporting character in the story – the city of Mumbai. Where else do you see a city wringing the humanity out of its characters, with its constant, unforgiving humidity?
There’s a beautiful moment involving Sartaj’s character. Having spent a majority of the day running around the city in a uniform drenched in sweat, he reaches home and tries to wash his face. Unfortunately, there’s no water in the bathroom. He heads to the kitchen sink, where there’s no water. The filter? Nope. When he opens the fridge and cannot find a single bottle of water, he lets out an exasperated scream . Through the day – he’s kept his calm through a scene of homicide, fended off his corrupt seniors, and an unidentified caller who cannot get to the point. As someone who has lived in Mumbai long enough will tell you, it’s possible to dazzled/disenchanted with the city in a span of minutes.
Netflix’s Sacred Games could also be a redemption for its directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, fascinated with writing an expansive love letter to Mumbai. While they succeeded in their low-risk bets like Black Friday & Trapped, they faltered on the big stage with Bombay Velvet and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero respectively. Maybe, successfully adapting Vikram Chandra’s rich-in-detail crime saga for our laptops/smartphones, will be the duo’s ultimate romantic gesture for the city. We’re only one episode down but brace yourself India, you’re about to watch the first world class desi TV show. As someone said – ‘the stars have aligned for this one’.
Sacred Games will start streaming on Netflix from July 6.