Netflix’s first Indian Original series, Sacred Games, debuted on the streaming platform on 6th July, and is now available for watching. This is a review of episode 1 of the 8-part series.
A link in their pasts leads an honest cop to a fugitive gang boss, whose cryptic warning spurs the officer on a quest to save Mumbai from cataclysm.
A mysterious phone call from an anonymous man leads police officer Sartaj Singh on a chase around Mumbai in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game.
Review: The opening scene of Vikramaditya Motwane’s Sacred Games is a shot of a dog falling from a high-rise building, as a man in voiceover asks:
“Bhagwan me bharosa karte ho? (Do you believe in God?)”
Then, as we see the blood-spattered corpse of the dog on the road, with young school-going girls and their parents screaming in horror nearby, he answers himself:
“Bhagwan ko l**d farak nahi padta. (God doesn’t give a f**k).”
It is a line that is, at once, both funny and serious, serving to tell us that this début offering from Netflix India and Phantom Productions is anything but your run-of-the-mill Indian television fare. To be fair, it was never in doubt, given the quality spread throughout the cast and crew. Actors Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, showrunner Motwane and his partner behind the camera, Anurag Kashyap, lead writer Varun Grover, besides editor Aarti Bajaj, who’s been a frequent collaborator in Kashyap’s films, all have, at various points, provided us with memorable cinema. They bring those qualities and aesthetics here too.
Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde, the gangster with the God complex, and Khan as Sartaj Singh, the honest but troubled cop, bring their A-games to the proceedings. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has long been someone you can rely on to wow you with his ability to embody the character, but Khan is a revelation, as he eschews any over-the-top histrionics that one normally associates with ‘acting’ in Bollywood. His Sartaj Singh is a mess of frustration and anguish, his wife having left him and a single, petty pickpocket’s arrest being the only thing he has to show for a decade of work, something that has become an albatross around his neck.
Gaitonde, on the other hand, is the quintessential I’m-the-hero bad guy, whose moral compass has been shaped by the events of his life, the same ones that have whipped up a megalomaniacal ego. He isn’t short of chutzpah either, as a sequence from a restaurant shows. If everything that follows is as good as this episode, he’ll set a high benchmark for future TV villains. Neeraj Kabi’s DCP Parulkar is another schemer whom we are going to see more of in the following episodes, it seems.
There is also a grandness to the series because of the overarching narrative that shifts back and forth in time, while touching contemporary political events. The Emergency was referenced in this episode, and I’m pretty sure it was only the first of many such references to come. The ease with which one can incite a conspiracy or riot, and how religion (“the opium of the masses,” as Karl Marx called it) is used to make morons out of fine, seemingly-upstanding people, is also on view. I believe this is going to be a critique of Indian society, in all its abhorrent, grotesque manifestations.
The higher budget, miniseries duration, cinema-grade cast and crew, besides the international platform of Netflix, have led to the internationalization of the tone and feel of the series. The night scenes have a yellow tone that look similar to those of another Netflix offering, Marvel’s Daredevil. There are no mindless interludes, and crisp editing lends a pace to even this scene-setter of an episode. There is also a shocking cliffhanger to end the episode.
So, can this compete with other Netflix offerings like Dark and Stranger Things? Time (the full eight episodes) will tell, but the early signs are extremely promising.
Verdict: Sacred Games‘ first episode fully delivers on the hype surrounding it. It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on Indian television.
Viewing Guide: Violence and strong language throughout.
Have you watched the series yet? Are you excited about it? What do you think of this review? Kindly share your views in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.