Sacred Games Season 1 Review: Saif Ali Khan's cop act and Nawazuddin Siddiqui's gangster avatar are gritty and unforgettable

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“Kabhi Kabhi lagta hai ki apna life ekdum jaadu hai”

Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan version 2.0) is a seasoned and cynical Sikh cop hooked onto anxiety pills, with an estranged wife. His career accomplishments only include Sonu Packitmaar (pickpocket) until one evening he receives a tip which promises him an opportunity to capture the powerful Ganesh Gaitonde, criminal overlord of the G-Company who has been in hiding for 15 years.

The notorious criminal assumed to be dead before his signal scrambling phone call, intrigues Sartaj after he teases him with information about his dead father, who was a police constable. He is quick to forewarn Singh of an apocalypse that will destroy Mumbai in 25 days.

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But why did Gaitonde choose Sartaj Singh to pass on the information? And how does a top-notch gangster know an honest cop like Singh’s father? The plot clock starts ticking leaving us wanting to connect the dots lead to cop-mafia drama. Rest assured, you are hooked, because as Gaitonde claims his story is like a scorpion — once stung, you’re done for!

The gritty and gripping Sacred Games, the first original Indian mini-series by Netflix, is adapted from Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel by the same name. The gangster saga juggles back and forth between the life of a monstrously entertaining criminal and a suspended police officer but at the same time is crash course on how a populous country’s social and political history was shaped, overcoming the odds disguised in religion, caste and economic divisions.

Chandra’s novel alternates between Sartaj Singh’s struggle to suss out Gaitonde’s warning and Gaitonde’s clichéd rags-to-riches story, the series, too, takes the same route, past eliding over the present. The flashbacks follow a Brahmin-born Gaitonde murdering his own mother after he catches her in bed with someone else, transforming into a flesh-eating, flesh-tearing goon who seeks courage in the eyes of a leopard. The now homicidal Gaitonde was once a hero for the dwellers of Gopalmath and had denounced himself as their God. The ruthless sinner protected his hatred from communal boundaries only to make exceptions later in his life.

Meanwhile, stakes mount and Sartaj is busy seeking knowledge of his prey. He finds himself as a part of a much larger plan, crossing across the boundaries of Bombay-turned-Mumbai. Contemporary scenes are stuck in a web of organized crime, corruption, politics and espionage in post-liberalization India, sticking around for nearly three decades. Sartaj finds a helping hand in a senior RAW officer Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte) and his devoted constable a.k.a orderly Katekar (Jitendra Joshi) who mirrors the reality of a policeman, on the personal and professional front. A cliché plot runs in parallel after Sartaj finds a female dead body at Gaitonde’s hideout. She turns out to be a Talent Manager cum pimp supplying Bollywood beauties.

Sacred Games gets direction from Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap of Phantom Films. Scenes featuring the forlorn cop have been helmed by Motwane while Kashyap’s direction is evident from the very appearance of a complex but dark-humoured Gaitonde. Kubra Sait as Gaintonde's transgender partner Cuckoo gives a stellar performance, with a provoking frontal nude shot, exposing his/her vulnerability to the world, and lover Nawaz. Jatin Sarna as Gaitonde's aide Bunty and Neeraj Kabi as DCP Parulkar will make you sit up and take notice how well the characters are etched out.

The real magician, however, is Aarti Bajaj who has perfectly woven these two separately shot films into a series sprawling across eight engaging episodes. Sure, Varun Grover, Vasant Nath, and Smita Singh’s writings assure 100% returns on your investment of time but don’t expect any surprise elements for everything’s pretty predictable to the extent that you may see passing glimpses of Kashyap’s past works, but the non-Indian audience can definitely binge watch!

High on dialogue delivery, the series makes adequate use of typical Hindi film scenarios (wanted criminal posing as a doctor and entering a hospital to kill another criminal or a goon letting go off a cop at the risk of being ratted out). However, it also, in many ways, reveals the demonic powers of a religion. Who defines what is right and what is wrong? Who chalks out the rulebook for every religion? For a fly’s chaos is a spider’s home. You will question the past, but existence and relevance are where it’s at.

Sacred Games gets it right in exposing the hypocrisy of an Indian, drugged by political correctness. We are all pawns in a game, squared at every corner to steer clear from anyone getting ahead; easily provoked by a text, picture, or versions of every section’s “reality.”

“Who makes the system?” Sartaj questions Katekar, point blank. Katekar responds by pouring himself a drink, the easy option.

“Bhagwan ko maante ho?”

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