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 SPOILER-FREE review of episode 2 (Halaahal), 3 (Atapi Vatapi) and 4 (Brahmahatya) 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.
After the cliffhanger ending to the intimacy of the first episode, Sacred Games steps back to survey and sample the mess that ending created, and how we arrived at that stage in the first place.
Doing this means assessing the impact of the news of Gaitonde’s reappearance on politicians, movie stars and policemen alike, besides chronicling how Gaitonde came to rule the roost from his humble origins, and taking suspended policeman Sartaj’s and RAW analyst-and-wannabe-field-agent Anjali Mathur’s (Radhika Apte) investigation forward. The series suffers the most in the second of these three, even though Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s intense and measured performance holds up everything marvellously well. The trouble is, the fictional rise of Gaitonde, despite taking place in an explicitly mentioned background of the real-life Indian politics of the 80s, treads many of the same paths that Gangster dramas have been treading for decades. This causes a jadedness to set in in those sections, especially of episodes 3 and 4. Au Contraire, the high point of this same chronicle is captured in two sequences. The first is between Gaitonde and his moll, Kukku, as the show peels back the layers of the animalistic lust between the two and shows how they care for each other. The second is when a small-time local politician, Bipin Bhonsle, comes to Gaitonde’s lair to appeal for his blessings in the ensuing elections. Both these sequences serve to humanise and enrich our lead villain into something almost resembling an anti-hero. Mr. Siddiqui mentions in this interview that he didn’t play his character as a villain, but as a guy who thinks he is the hero, something which also comes up in the opening few lines of the series. For Gaitonde, this is his story we are witnessing, his rise, his fall, his fights, his glory. Everything here is about him, and the others are only bit-part actors in the whole scenario, he believes. The humanising sequences are part of what bolster his claim, even though there is a long list of crimes that say otherwise.
The investigation proceeds at a good pace, although that also suffers from some derivativeness. The viewer wants Sartaj to assert himself when one sees him being cowed down by his DCP Parulkar and his colleague Majid. But that in itself is a picture of why he is where he is after a decade on the force. The investigation is his shot at professional redemption and success at a larger level, but also a valiant attempt at achieving those things on a more personalised level. On that note, his standing up to Majid in a sequence from Brahmahatya gladdens the viewer’s heart. As he punches Majid back on the nose, adding a ring on his finger for more damage, one feels, yes, this is what you should do more often, Sartaj ji.
An unsatisfactory thing till the halfway point of the series is that we haven’t had much of Radhika Apte yet. She has been good in her scenes, but those are fewer than one would want them to be.
One of the intriguing things about Sacred Games is the nomenclature used for the episodes. They are analogous to the story being depicted on the screen, of course, and have been drawn from Hindu mythology. Couple that with the intricate title sequence and unique designs for each episode. I’d strongly suggest reading this, for more on that.
Another wonderfully surprising thing is the fact that this is an Indian drama series that is embracing religion and politics, the twin demons referenced in the name of the third episode, Atapi Vatapi. While it hasn’t yet done that for the storyline of the present, the past of Gaitonde probably has more direct references to politics (the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi et al) than all other serialised dramas on air today. The religious fault lines are visible already, and one would expect them to get more intricately meshed as the timeline comes up to the Bombay blasts and the riots that followed.
The background score really comes to the fore in Halaahal, after a subdued time earlier. The long tracking shot at the beginning of Brahmahatya is another notable high point, keeping the tension up, despite the fact that one knows how the scene is going to end.
And therein lie the biggest drawback of Sacred Games. The series touches a lot of highs, some previously unscaled in Indian television, but it is these moments of déjà vu that hold it back from its otherwise rarefied place. Going forward, one hopes these clichéd parts are kept to a minimum.
Sacred Games suffers from a dip after the Himalayan high of the first episode, but still packs enough punch.
Once again, do share your thoughts on the series and this review in the comments section.
Images credits: Google Images.
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