Sacred Games (TV series)
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|Based on||Sacred Games|
by Vikram Chandra
|Theme music composer||Alokananda Dasgupta|
|Country of origin||India|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||16 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||43–58 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Phantom Films|
|Picture format||4K (UHDTV)|
|Original release||5 July 2018 –|
15 August 2019
Sacred Games is an Indian crime thriller web television series based on Vikram Chandra's 2006 novel of the same name. The first Netflix original series in India, it is directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap who produced it under their banner Phantom Films. The novel was adapted by Varun Grover, Smita Singh, and Vasant Nath. Kelly Luegenbiehl, Erik Barmack and Motwane served as the executive producers.
Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is a troubled police officer in Mumbai who receives a phone call from gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who tells him to save the city within 25 days. The series chronicles the events that follow. Other cast members include Radhika Apte, Girish Kulkarni, Neeraj Kabi, Jeetendra Joshi, Rajshri Deshpande, Karan Wahi, Sukhmani Sadana, Aamir Bashir, Jatin Sarna, Elnaaz Norouzi, Pankaj Tripathi, Amey Wagh, Kubbra Sait, Surveen Chawla, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey and Amruta Subhash.
The development of Sacred Games started after Erik Barmack, the Vice-president of Netflix contacted Motwane to create Indian content for the platform in 2014. They opted to adapt Chandra's novel in the local Indian language, to which Motwane agreed. After the script was completed, Motwane asked Kashyap to co-direct; Motwane directed the sequences involving Singh, while Kashyap directed Gaitonde's. Swapnil Sonawane was the director of photography for Motwane, while Sylvester Fonseca and Aseem Bajaj filmed the scenes directed by Kashyap. In the second season, Motwane served only as the showrunner and was replaced by Neeraj Ghaywan. Aarti Bajaj was the editor, and Alokananda Dasgupta composed the background score.
The first four episodes of Sacred Games premiered on 30 June 2018, with the full season of eight episodes released on Netflix on 5 July 2018 across 191 countries. It has subtitles in more than 20 languages. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for the performances and writing. The second season premiered on 15 August 2019. It is the only Indian series to feature in The New York Times list of "The 30 Best International TV Shows of the Decade." Siddiqui has said that there will not be a third season.
Sartaj Singh is a troubled Mumbai Police inspector who seeks validation from a police force he nevertheless loathes for its corruption. He receives an anonymous phone call from Ganesh Gaitonde, a notorious crime lord who has been missing for 16 years. He tells Singh to save the city in 25 days, which initiates a chain of events that burrows deep into India's dark underworld. In the journey, Singh is helped by Research and Analysis Wing officer Anjali Mathur while flashbacks detail Gaitonde's origins and how he rose to power as crime lord of Mumbai. The first season follows Singh trying to uncover clues about Gaitonde's past while also learning of a connection between Gaitonde and his father.
In season two, Gaitonde's story continues in flashbacks, which again affects things in the present for Sartaj. Sartaj eventually uncovers the existence of an ashram his father once was part of and learns of their apocalyptic plans to create a new world devoid of conflicts. In flashback, Gaitonde's meeting with Guruji is depicted, along with how he became part of the ashram and his activities with them. Also explored is how Gaitonde was at the same time deployed in Africa by RAW officer Ms. Yadav who tries to keep Gaitonde's rival and archenemy Suleiman Isa alive - much to the latter's dismay - so she can eventually capture and kill the dangerous extremist Shahid Khan, who also turns out to be Sartaj's cousin and one who harbours plans with ashram to wipe out India.
|Season 1||Season 2|
|Saif Ali Khan||Inspector Sartaj Singh||Main|
|Nawazuddin Siddiqui||Ganesh Gaitonde||Main|
|Radhika Apte||Anjali Mathur||Main||Does not appear|
|Pankaj Tripathi||Khanna Guruji||Recurring||Main|
|Kalki Koechlin||Batya Abelman||Does not appear||Main|
|Ranvir Shorey||Shahid Khan||Does not appear||Main|
|Neeraj Kabi||DCP Dilip Parulkar||Recurring|
|Jatin Sarna||Deepak "Bunty" Shinde||Recurring|
|Kubra Sait||Kukkoo||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Jitendra Joshi||Constable Ashok Katekar||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Rajshri Deshpande||Subhadra||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Elnaaz Norouzi||Zoya Mirza/Jamila||Recurring|
|Luke Kenny||Malcolm Mourad||Recurring|
|Aamir Bashir||Inspector Majid Ali Khan||Recurring|
|Geetanjali Thapa||Nayanika Sehgal||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Surveen Chawla||Jojo Mascarenas||Recurring|
|Shalini Vatsa||Kanta Bai||Recurring|
|Amruta Subhash||Kusum Devi Yadav||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Girish Kulkarni||Bipin Bhosale||Recurring|
|Anupriya Goenka||Megha Singh||Recurring|
|Affan Khan||Young Sartaj Singh||Recurring|
|Sunny Pawar||Young Ganesh Gaitonde||Recurring|
|Danish Pandor||Bada Badariya||Recurring|
|Anil Mange||Chota Badariya||Recurring|
|Samir Kochhar||ACIO Markand||Recurring|
|Rajendra Shisatka||ASI Dhobale||Recurring|
|Muni Jha||Paritosh Shah||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Karan Wahi||Karan Malhotra||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Nawab Shah||Salim Kaka||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Saanand Verma||Purushottam Baria||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Jaipreet Singh||Constable Dilbagh Singh||Recurring|
|Saurabh Sachdeva||Suleiman Isa||Recurring|
|Neha Shitole||Shalini Katekar||Recurring|
|Smita Tambe||ATS Analyst Rama||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Harshita Gaur||Mary Mascarenas||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Priyanka Setia||Harsha Baria||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Sandesh Kulkarni||Gaitonde's Father||Recurring|
|Vibhavari Deshpande||Gaitonde's Mother||Recurring||Does not appear|
|Joy Sengupta||Mathur||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Amey Wagh||Kushal||Does not appear||Recurring|
|Jaimin Panchal||Gaitonde's Brother||Does not appear||Recurring|
|1||8||July 5, 2018|
|2||8||August 15, 2019|
Erik Barmack, the vice president of Netflix, came across Vikram Chandra's 2006 crime novel, Sacred Games, while they were searching for content for Indian and the global audience. He called it "an interesting property" and decided to adapt it in Indian language. They decided to approach Phantom Films while looking for director and producer for the series. In 2014, writer-director Vikramaditya Motwane met the team of Netflix during his visit to Los Angeles. Motwane had read Chandra's earlier novel Love and Longing in Bombay where the character of Sartaj Singh was introduced. After the meeting, he read Sacred Games and thought it was "great". He said the best thing for him was that they wanted to make it in Hindi and not in English, as according to him "speaking in English can seem so fake at times." He started working on the adaptation of the novel with writer Varun Grover and described the writing as the "biggest challenge".
Motwane said that the digital series medium was "liberating" as he was able to tell stories that "don't have to be told in two-and-a-half hours with an interval and three songs inserted into it." Initially, Motwane considered bringing different directors on board for each episode: "As we got closer to production, we realised that dates were clashing and that it was an overall nightmare [..]." He suggested that Anurag Kashyap co-direct the series with him, as Motwane felt that the two "distinct voices" were essential for the "parallel tracks" of story. Kashyap said he "gobbled" on the opportunity as he was fascinated with the novel. Kashyap had read the novel in 2006 when it came out. In 2014, he had been approached by AMC from Scott Free Productions to direct a series in English. Kashyap had declined the offer, as he did not want to do "anything based in India in English". Motwane and his writers gave the scripts to Chandra for feedback. "Chandra is so research-intensive that we didn't have to approach another researcher, we just had to ask him questions." The series was written by Grover, Smita Singh, and Vasant Nath. One of the writers, Smita Singh, said that in 2016, they were told by Phantom Films to adapt the novel and "it had to be a gripping, slow-burner". The research was headed by Smita Nair and Mantra Watsa, who summarised every chapter and made the "complex plot easily accessible" to the writers. The entire script was completed in a year. Nath said that in the beginning of the writing process, they were "chucking away some important characters from the original, and bringing in new ones". It is the first Indian original series for Netflix.
The episode titles are inspired by Hindu mythology. The first episode titled "Aswatthama", was based on the namesake character from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. He was cursed with immortality by Krishna after the Kurukshetra war. In the series, Gaitonde calls himself immortal like Ashwatthama, but later commits suicide. "Halahala", another episode, was named after a poison of the same name, which was retrieved from Samudra manthan. Aatapi and Vatapi were two demons who used to trick travellers with hospitality and kill them. Brahmahatya means killing of a Brahmin, which is a crime in Hinduism. In the episode, the Hindu Gaitonde agrees to try to attract Muslim votes for Hindu politician Bhosale. Sarama is referred to as a dog. Pretakalpa learns the rites of a Hindu to perform the cremations. In this episode, Katekar is killed and Sartaj cremates him. Rudra is the angered version of Shiva. Gaitonde's wife Subhadra is killed in this episode; he takes revenge by murdering her killers. Yayati was king cursed with premature old age. The title sequence, logo, and title designs were designed by graphic designer Aniruddh Mehta and Mumbai-based motion lab Plexus, who drew inspiration from the Hindu mythology for the designs. Mehta said that each emblem was a contemporary take on "stories from ancient Hindu scriptures, mandala's, mixing modern design elements with characters from the Indus Valley Civilization" that were derived from the episode titles. The sequence also featured real footages of several events such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Several changes were made while the team adapted the novel as a series. The character of Kuckoo, a transgender woman, is mentioned in passing, as a dancer whom a police officer fell in love with. A constable narrates this to Sartaj, describing Kuckoo as "beautiful as a Kashmiri apple". In the series, Kuckoo is an extended character and is shown as the love interest of Gaitonde. Similarly, the character of Malcolm Murad, who is mentioned once in the novel, has an extended role as an assassin. Few other changes were made. In the novel, the riots were a part of the story, whereas in the series, they are narrated by Gaitonde in glimpses.
Casting and characters
Several characters in the series speak different Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and Gujarati. Kashyap mentioned that it gives a "real sense of what India is". Saif Ali Khan called the series an experiment and said he agreed to do it because "people are willing to watch programmes from other countries with sub-titles because good stories transcend boundaries." Khan found an "interesting arc" in the character of Sartaj Singh and called it "troubled and honest". He said that he read bits of the novel but later dropped after he found it was not helping him find what needed as an actor. Radhika Apte played the role of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer Anjali Mathur. Apte called her character a "completely no-nonsense, focused woman who's highly respected in her field and by her peers." She mentioned that her character is not glamourised unlike the Hindi film's depict a RAW agent and did not read the novel. Kashyap said that the novel is about "how Bombay became Mumbai" and the series gives "a sense of the city, where it came from and where it is today."
Nawazuddin Siddiqui said that he treated the role of a gangster as a human being. He also felt that a series gives more time for the character to be explored, unlike a film; he said he agreed to do the series as he wanted to explore the format. He called it the most complex character he has played so far. Khan read the short story Kama, written by Chandra, to "delve into his character's angst." The character of Sartaj Singh was changed from the novel who is described as a thin and tall police officer to a muscled heavyweight. Khan said that changes were made to make the character look "visually engaging" who is a "slightly more charged-up version of the passive officer in the books". Kashyap called Gaitonde the "sum of all we like in movie characters." Motwane said that Siddiqui was his first choice to portray Gaitonde because he "plays gangster so well" and "has that aura and almost everything that's required to play a gangster." He expressed that casting popular actors like Khan and Siddiqui was a conscious decision as it also "drives a larger audience to watch. He said that it was easier to convince Apte and Neeraj Kabi for the roles after Khan and Siddiqui were cast." Kabi was cast in the role of DCP Parulkar, for which he researched from the novel. He also worked on his body language as it was mentioned in the novel for the character. Jitendra Joshi played the role of constable Katekar, who is Sartaj's colleague. He was selected for the role after giving an audition. Joshi took inspiration from real life police officers for the character.
Actress Kubbra Sait played the role of Kuckoo, a transgender woman. She was asked to audition by Kashyap at the screening of Mukkabaaz at MAMI Film Festival; Sait auditioned and was eventually selected. She said the lack of references for the role made it "the most challenging experience" of her career. She wore a penis made of prosthetic makeup between her thighs. Jatin Sarna played the role of gangster Deepak "Bunty" Shinde, which he got after auditioning. Rajshri Deshpande played the role of Siddiqui's wife, Subhadra. Girish Kulkarni was originally offered the role of constable Katekar, which he declined as he wanted a character "that would figure in both Sartaj and Ganesh Gaitonde's world". He then got the role of minister Bipin Bhosale. International actress Elnaaz Norouzi was cast in the role of film star Zoya Mirza. Despite her small role she garnered huge fan following on Instagram for her crisp Hindi accent and bringing a breath of freshness amidst high-tension drama in the series. The series' production design was handled by Shazia Iqbal and Vintee Bansal; Aarti Bajaj served as the editor of the series. Swapnil Sonawane shot the portions directed by Motwane. Sylvester Fonseca and Aseem Bajaj shot the scenes of Kashyap. Anish John served as the sound designer.
Motwane started filming in September 2017. Kashyap started filming the series after the completion of Mukkabaaz and finished shooting in January 2018. Both Motwane and Kashyap shot the series separately; Motwane directed the present-day scenes with Khan and Kashyap filmed the Bombay of the 1980s with Siddiqui. Motwane called the exercise of shooting individually an "experiment". Kashyap said it was "painfully difficult" to find the "pockets of Bombay which has kept itself like it is". Chandra was working on the novel at the same time Kashyap was working on his film Black Friday (2007), so he "knew the real-life parallels" in the novel. Kashyap said that he shot and treated the series like a film. Motwane said that apart from leaving out small details, they have "stuck to the spirit of the book". Motwane said that he tried to balance the series between "making it for a worldwide audience [and not alienating] everybody over here." Motwane said that he felt liberated to tell the story without being confined to a three-act structure.
Sacred Games was shot on different real locations in Mumbai including Byculla, as it was set in a period, which Motwane expressed was a "huge logistical challenge". The time period of Gaitonde's story remained unchanged, while the present-day narrative was shifted to present from early 2000s. Motwane explained that it was because of a "similar sort of government [today] and the vibes are the same, so the threat felt a lot more present". Chandra served as a script consultant in the series. According to Sonawane, "a lot of changes happened on the shoot". Several shots were also mentioned in the script, like the introduction of Gaitonde as a kid, which was a top-angle shot, as in the script. He chose to shoot Sartaj Singh's sequences with "worn-out but very warm lenses that reflect how nothing is working out in Sartaj's life." Yellow colour palette's were used in scenes involving Gaitonde because of the "guru that he has begun to follow." Bajaj shot for 27 days, but left after he was involved in another project. After which Fonseca shot the rest of the scenes. He used spherical lenses to shot in order to "demarcate" the world. The shootout sequence at Gaitonde's house, was shot at three different locations with long takes on Steadicam and hand-held shots. One of the scene with Sait involving frontal nudity, was shot in seven takes.
In September 2018, it was announced that the series has been renewed for another season. A 58-second teaser for promoting the second season was launched on 21 September 2018. Kashyap will continue to direct while Neeraj Ghaywan will replace Motwane as the director. Pankaj Tripathi and Surveen Chawla, who were only shown in glimpse in the first season returned in full-fledged roles in the second. Other new entries were Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey and Amruta Subhash. Chawla shot the series during pregnancy. The filming began in November 2018 with Siddiqui filming his portion in Nairobi, Kenya while Khan in Mumbai. It was shot in a 50-day schedule with Ghaywan filming with Khan. The series was extensively shot in Mombasa, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The shooting was finished on 20 February 2019. The second season premiered on 15 August 2019. In 2020, Siddiqui said that there won't be a third season.
Sacred Games is the first Netflix original series from India. In February 2018, Netflix announced three new series, along with four others, making a total of seven series coming out of India. The first look of the main three characters: Singh, Ganesh Gaitonde and Mathur were released by Netflix on 23 February 2018. It had individual stills of a blood spattered Singh, a perplexed looking Mathur and kurta pyjama clad Gaitonde. On 4 May 2018, the 55-second long teaser video was released, followed by the release of the official trailer on 6 June 2018. The series premiered in Mumbai on 29 June 2018 at the MAMI film festival, where only first four episodes were shown. The series was released on 5 July 2018 across 191 countries on Netflix with subtitles in more than 20 languages. Post the release, several mashup videos, art works and memes related to Sacred Games were released and circulated on social media.
On 10 July 2018, the Indian National Congress party member Rajeev Kumar Sinha, lodged a First information report against Netflix, the showrunners and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, for allegedly insulting former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in one of the scenes. Another complaint was lodged on 11 July 2018 by the President of Youth Indian National Trade Union Congress and All Indian Cine Worker's Association, Suresh Shyamal Gupta for allegedly insulting Gandhi. On 14 July 2018, Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to respond to the controversy by stating that freedom "is a fundamental democratic right" and said: "My father lived and died in the service of India. The views of a character on a fictional web series can never change that." On 15 July 2018, Sinha decided to withdraw the complaint following Gandhi's tweet. Netflix informed on 19 July 2018 that a change had been incorporated in the English subtitle to remedy the alleged insult to Gandhi. Sacred Games was also subjected to piracy. The vice president of Netflix, Todd Yellin revealed that the first season was watched by twice as many people outside of India.
After release, the series received positive reviews from critics, with praise for the performances. The show holds a 83% average audience and 76% tomatometer score on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. The first season holds a 92% fresh rating, while the second has 60%.
Raja Sen gave a positive response and wrote: "It is not an immediately explosive concept, unfolding more like a thriller by numbers, helped along by strong performances and some nimble direction." Jai Arjun Singh felt that the series replicated the novel's profanity very intricately and said that the "series uses its own methods to stress the idea of religion as something that can be both nurturing and cannibalistic". Ektaa Malik of The Indian Express called the series "edgier and more layered", but said: "For those who have read the original source material — the novel Sacred Games — they might find the series a bit jarring with regards to certain plot developments." Manjusha Radhakrishnan of Gulf News cited the series as an "edgy, thrilling winner" and said that Khan and Siddiqui are in their "top form". Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV gave a positive response and wrote: "The series has the potential to wean back viewers who have been driven away from television by drab soap operas and trite entertainment formats."
Dipti Kharude of The Quint commended the writing of the series and said, "What's commendable is that Sacred Games chooses compassion over glorification." Swetha Ramakrishnan of Firstpost called it a "high benchmark for India's first Netflix original." She further said that the show gives "due diligence with high production value and an investment into the right parameters — writing, acting and direction." Shristi Negi of CNN-News18 reviewed and mentioned that the show "totally grips you from start to finish". Ankur Pathak of HuffPost gave a positive response and wrote: "At the surface, Sacred Games appears to be a standard cat-and-mouse chase but the show's probing, introspective nature turns a clichéd crime-saga to a biting commentary on the zeitgeist. Its relevance to our current moment cannot be overstated."
Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter stated that "there are clear flaws" while also mentioning that "there's something riveting about India's bleaker, darker heart being exposed as opposed to some upbeat, colorful explosion of dance scenes". Mike Hale of The New York Times said that, "despite its verve and visual inventiveness, the series feels muddled and a little wearying at times". Adam Starkey of Metro wrote that the dual narratives, while occasionally jarring, are equally compelling. Taylor Antrim called the series "mesmerizing" and "addictive", he further said that it is "Bollywood maximal-ism meets downbeat Euro noir meets Hollywood gangster epic". Steve Greene of IndieWire felt the series was a "surface-level telling of a story that wants to have so much more in its grasp." He also noted the amount of violence depicted. John Doyle of The Globe and Mail noted that the series "sprawls from thriller to dense character study to brooding meditation on the roots of India's political corruption." He, however pointed out that some elements in the story "will puzzle viewers not familiar with India's tangled religious tensions and caste system." Kaitlin Reily of Refinery29 called it a "juicy crime thriller that combines a hard-boiled detective story with magical realism." Lincoln Michel of GQ called it the "best Netflix original in years."
The second season received less favorable than its predecessor. Tanul Thakur of The Wire stated that it "severely lacks the urgency, the wicked humour and the heartfelt bonds that made the first season so captivating." Shreya Iyer of The Times of India described that the series "falls short on several levels and is unable to live up to the hype created by the previous season." Kaushani Banerjee of The New Indian Express wrote: "There seems to be a lack of effort or failure to bring newness to the characters which became iconic after the first season was aired." Soumya Rao of Scroll.in called it "too ambitious for its own good".
Awards and recognition
Sacred games won the Best Drama Award at the News18 iReel Awards. It won five awards from 11 nominations including Best Actor (Drama) for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Best Supporting Actor for Jitendra Joshi, Best Writing (Drama), Best Ensemble Cast, and Best Series (Drama). Kashyap won the Best Direction (fiction) Award while Aarti Bajaj won the Award for Best Editing at the inaugural Asian Academy Creative Awards. It also won Best Web Series award at 18th Indian Television Academy Awards. Season 2 was also nominated in the Best Drama category at the International Emmy Award 2019, but did not win. It is the only Indian series to feature in The New York Times list of "The 30 Best International TV Shows of the Decade."
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