The second season of the Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Saif Ali Khan-starrer Sacred Games on Netflix is Season 1 on drugs — literally and metaphorically. What other recent Indian show has been able to combine Partition, ISIS, lynching, Afghanistan, corrupt home ministers, an Arnab Goswami-lookalike, nuclear threat, Mombasa and Mumbai?
The credit clearly goes to Varun Grover and the team of writers for the brilliant adaptation and editor Aarti Bajaj for making every scene meaningful. Taut storytelling that almost resembles a Persian rug — for the number of plots and characters it weaves together — and nuanced editing make for an intriguing watch.
This town needs an enema, says Jack Nicholson as Joker in the 1989 film Batman. After marathon-watching all eight episodes of Sacred Games Season 2, you are bound to feel the same way.
Sartaj and Gaitonde — the gangster and the cop
Do you believe in God?
God doesn’t give a fuck.
If these were the first words Season 1 of Sacred Games began with, Season 2 goes on to prove it — in flesh and blood.
The series picks up where we last left Mumbai gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and earnest-but-struggling cop Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan). While the story car is reversed for Gaitonde, we go full speed forward for Sartaj.
Sartaj must save the city of Mumbai. Gaitonde had given him only 25 days. Sartaj’s storyline is directed by Neeraj Ghaywan — who made his debut as a director with Masaan — and is more about a personal journey. It is the bildungsroman of an ageing man. A cop trying to live up to his father’s image and struggling with self-worth. He must hurry and decode the riddles in the ‘Sacred Game’, face corrupt peers and politicians, his pregnant ex-wife, and, of course, live with a bleeding four-fingered hand.
Gaitonde’s storyline — directed by Anurag Kashyap— is more of a physical journey, crisscrossing continents, jobs and political eras. Gaitonde juggles with it all after his life as a small-time Mumbai gangster comes to an end. There are drugs, rhino horns, money, Bollywood and, of course, his constant desire to be God. He is rescued from prison, where we last saw him in Season 1, and makes his way to Africa, where he does the Indian government and RAW’s bidding in exchange for protection.
Can Sartaj decipher Gaitonde’s cryptic words before he shot himself (Season 1) and save Mumbai?
As the series unravels, the parallels between Sartaj and Gaitonde’s lives become clear. Both become intertwined with a Guruji and his ashram. Played masterfully by Pankaj Tripathi, Guruji may remind you of Osho from Netflix’s Wild Wild Country. While Osho was busy with bioterrorism and sex, Guruji is busy with nuclear bombs and sex. (Sex must be treated as an exercise, he tells his disciples.)
Although Guruji’s characterisation can often border on the ludicrous, it still isn’t far from reality. Think Asaram, Ram Rahim and Sadhguru.
Guruji only wants one thing — destroy the current tamsik world and lead it to the satvik age or the Satya Yuga. Just add fuel to world’s flames, and it will set itself on fire, he says — as montages of hate crimes across the world play out on screen.
And of course, we get our own Ma Anand Sheela in the form of Batya Abelman, played by Kalki Koechlin. Batya’s constantly mutating accent aside, Kalki essays the role of a calm and cunning sidekick to perfection. Power and narcissism fucked each other and gave birth to the thing we all love — materialism, Batya says, urging the ashram’s disciples to opt for a better world. Her eyes calm and her plot sinister.
Like the first season of Sacred Games, the second season too has some really powerful women — but sadly, they too are mere catalysts in the men’s lives.
The most striking of these characters is Yadav, played by National Award winner Amruta Subhash. A RAW agent, who wears crisp cotton sarees and has Gaitonde on a leash in Mombasa, Yadav holds her own in every scene that she is part of. Subash’s acting prowess here makes you wonder what injustice Zoya Akhtar did to her in Gully Boy, where she was reduced to Ranveer Singh’s mostly silent mother.
Suvreen Chawla as Jojo, Gaitonde’s muse and confidant, is captivating and portrays an uncommon tenderness.
Even Kalki Koechlin as Batya flows through her scenes effortlessly, realising she is a mere pawn on Guruji’s chessboard.
Netflix reportedly pumped in Rs 100 crore for the second season, which featured 3,500 cast members and was shot across 112 locations. And it shows.
Based on Vikram Chandra’s novel of the same name, Sacred Games is a compelling watch. Very rarely does India make a web thriller of international quality. However, Season 1 was certainly more compact and thrilling than Season 2.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the master of his craft, no doubt. Saif Ali Khan’s Sartaj is unputdownable. Khan is more suited to Netflix than Tashan.
In one of the scenes where the home minister is being interrogated in a college library, look closely at the poster of the book in the background. It is Franz Kafka’s The Trial. It is a sign that there are no clear answers or right or wrong anymore, because India and the world have become Kafka-esque. Religion, money, politics, power, gender divide us and we keep going in spirals.
If you just celebrated India’s 73rd Independence Day and are convinced that things are fine and the nation is doing great, don’t watch Sacred Games, it is not for you.