Netflix's 'Sacred Games' Review: Anurag Kashyap finally has the licence to thrill

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
Kubra Sait as Kukoo with Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Transgender woman, Sacred Games
Kubra Sait as Kukoo and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde
Alright, first things first! I am finally done with the first season of Sacred Games. And, for the uninitiated, I say first season because the 8 episodes cover only a part of the Vikram Chandra book. I am revealing this as I don't want you all to feel just like what most people had felt after Gangs of Wasseypur ended in a cliffhanger and it was only at that point that most people learnt that there would be a Part II as well. 

Now, the first thought that I would like to share about Sacred Games is that it while it certainly pales in comparison to international offerings on the subject of crime like McMafia or Narcos, it is quite easily the best series to have come out of India. Anurag Kashyap is going about saying to everyone that the actual credit goes to Vikramaditya Motwane and other team members for making it happen but I can say this with great conviction that the Netflix series wouldn't have been possible without his legacy and failures (read Bombay Velvet). 



If today India finally has a world class series the credit for it has to first and foremost go to Anurag Kashyap. Yes, we curse the man for his failures and so it is only fitting that we praise him for his achievements. It is difficult to thing of another A-rated filmmaker in the country who would so comfortable in depiction of violence, expletives, frontal nudity and whatnot. Now, we can condemn all these things as much as we like, there is no denying that when it comes to international targeting these are a must, especially while dealing with the crime genre. 
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde in Sacred Games, Netflix Original Series
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde in the Netflix Original Series 'Sacred Games'
Varun Grover and team have done an excellent job with the screenplay. However, I personally does have issues with the stereotypical representation of Muslims (as gangsters, thugs, terrorists, mafia kingpins, etc.) Also, the screenplay have some other weak areas especially in the early episodes (so many opportunities missed with trivial matters unnecessarily taking up a lot of screen time) the final few episodes as one would expect succeed in overcoming them. Here I would like to commend Saif Ali Khan who delivers his best performance since Omkara as Police Inspector Sartaj Singh. He is at his best in the scenes wherein he is all alone. For, in these scenes we barely see him speak and all we see is his inner turmoil, guilt, and years of frustration. Saif looks quite natural in these scenes and we all can relate to him.
Jatin Sarna as Bunty in Sacred Games, cripple, wheel chair
Jatin Sarna as Bunty in Sacred Games
Since Saif's is a rather low-key performance it is Nawazuddin Siddiqui (as Ganesh Gaitonde) and Jatin Sarna (as Gaitonde's right-hand man Bunty) who are the real showstealers. Neeraj Kabi as Officer Parulkar, Rajshri Deshpande as Subhadra, Luke Kenny as Malcom Murad, Kubra Sait as Kukoo, Jitendra Joshi as Constable Katekar, Elnaaz Norouzi as Zoya Mirza, and Girish Kulkarni as Minister Bhosale are all brilliant. Radhika Apte is a tad bit disappointing as the RAW officer. I am hoping to see one of my favorite actors Pankaj Tripathi in a central role in the second season. Now, everyone has been messaging me about the status of season 2. All I have learnt so far is that the writing is already underway and all that Kashyap and team are waiting for is an official announcement from Netflix. 

P.S. For those viewers who don't speak / understand Hindi, we recommend watching the Netflix Original Series in Hindi with English subs... we believe the English version does't really capture the emotions well.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Read on for Sacred Games (Season 1, Episode 1) - Review  (originally published on 4th July, 2018)

Anurag Kashyap’s cinema has always been known for its excesses and the relentless use of expletives. One of the biggest roadblocks for Kashyap over the years has been the Censor Board. But it all changes with Sacred Games as he need not worry about the parochial censorship norms he had to deal with for the last 20 years in the industry, as a writer, director and producer. Now, the first episode of the much awaited Netflix Original Series was recently screened as part of a special premiere in Delhi. And, while watching the episode, the first thing that captured my attention was the unrestrained use of cuss words delivered by the actors. The next obvious thing was, of course, graphic violence unlike what we get to see in the Hindi movies. In other words, right from the very onset, Anurag Kashyap seemed to be making great use of his hard earned creative licence. One hopes that he will continue to use it to his advantage during the next seven episodes as well.
Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh in the Netflix Original Series 'Sacred Games'
Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh in the Netflix Original Series 'Sacred Games'
Coming to the plot of Sacred Games, it can best be described as a cat and mouse game between Ganesh Gaitonde (essayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Sartaj Singh (essayed by Saif Ali Khan). While the former is a ferocious gangster desperate to make his most deadly move yet, the latter is an honest cop whose honesty has become a thorn in the flesh for his department. After killing a girl in cold blood, a tired-looking Gaitonde calls up Sartaj and begins to narrate his life’s tale. It is a tale that begins with loss of innocence as a young boy is forced to abandon his abode. Thus begins his journey to the heart of darkness which would culminate with him coming face to face with Sartaj, many decades later. One of the most striking aspects of Sacred Games, co-directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, is its nonlinear structure, with the story keep on going back and forth.
Neeraj Kabi as Officer Parulkar in Sacred Games, Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh, Police Station
Neeraj Kabi as Officer Parulkar in Sacred Games
There is an interesting sequence wherein a young Gaitonde gets hired at an all-vegetarian Hindu hotel in Mumbai because he is a Brahim, an upper class Hindu. It is here he develops an addiction for Mandrax. But the owner is a mean man. Not only does he not pay him his salary when it is due, he also keeps him on a leash. It is during these early days that Gaitonde gradually begins to turn to the dark side. Now as Gaitonde is narrating his tale to Sartaj, the latter is desperately trying to trace the caller. Initially he mistakes him for a small time criminal but one learning about his true identity he gets the shock of his life. Revealing any further details would spoil the episode for you and so I am refraining from doing the same. Sacred Games seems to have begun on a solid note with the pilot episode perfectly setting the tone of the film. But, a lot of secondary albeit important characters (such as Bunty) are yet to be introduced. Even Radhika Apte’s character isn’t properly introduced yet. As a matter of fact, she just features in a few scenes of the first episode but one expects that she will gradually emerge as a strong female lead.
Radhika Apte in Sacred Games, Netflix Original Series
Radhika Apte in 'Sacred Games'
Overall, Sacred Games seems to have all the makings of a great crime thriller series. With Vikram Chandra’s novel as its base material, Sacred Games looks like a clear winner. Going by what the first episode offers one must praise the efforts of the writing team that’s well led by Varun Grover. Apart from the violence and profanity of language another thing that a keen-eyed viewer will observe is how Kashyap manages to bring his new favorite subject, religion, into the mix of things. So beyond the gory façade there will be some strong socio-political commentary to grapple with. My only concern is Kashyap’s tendency of becoming a little preachy as times, as was the case with Mukkabaaz. But, I sincerely hope that Motwane would provide the right kind of balance to Kashyap’s overzealous tendencies. In terms of acting for now it is all about Saif and Siddiqui. While Saif appears a bit subdued, Siddiqui is yet again quite over the top. But I mean that as a compliment; as Gaitonde, he appears to be at his menacing best. Having been enthralled by the first episode, I am now eagerly looking forward to the remaining episodes. The eight-part series is set to go live from July 6, 2018.


Sacred Games - Official Trailer (YouTube)
       
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