Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Shantaram by Greogory David Roberts and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta are three books which were published few years apart at the dawn of the millenium and all three of them have a common central character, that being Mumbai. Mehta and Chandra coincidentally had collabroated on Mission Kashmir too. Apart from Sacred Games, the rest could safely be called non-fiction with Shantaram treading a thin line between fiction and reality. But then any story about Mumbai is a genre in itself, magical realism meeting Mario Puzo, if I may. Shantaram was the one book that I looked forward to being made into a movie and if I am not wrong Mira Nair was supposed to do one with Johnny Depp in the lead. That never took off I guess. Sacred Games to be honest was a difficult read, in terms of the sheer number of pages it ran into and was a slow burner but it had all the makings of a potential gangster drama, in the hands of the right filmmaker. Ram Gopal Varma was fresh on the heels of his take on the Mumbai gang land with Satya and Company and looked the perfect candidate in those days, now not so much. So it was only natural that one of his early collaborators who went on to make a distinct name for himself in India and globally, Anurag Kashyap turned out to be the one who brought Vikram Chandra’s magnus opus-as it would be touted now- to life on the screen finally, and how. It’s also a landmark in terms of the fact that it’s the first Indian Netflix Original.The book was a critical success, commercial not so much back then and given the hype and rave reviews Season One has generated thanks to Kashyap and Co. , I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a revived interest in the book itself and offer some consoloation to the author towards the cause of the unrecouped original million dollar advance by Harper Collins.
Ganesh Gationde, the surreal character who is a hero, a villain and a victim simultaneoulsy needed a Nawazuddin Siddiqui to be elevated to greatness as one of the most memorable characters ever written.Back when I read Sacred Games, Gaitonde did not have a face. Now, I cannot imagine anyone else but Nawazuddin as Gaitonde. It’s his destiny as an artist, I can’t but help feel. Consider this, it took Vikram Chandra around ten years to write the book.He travelled to Bihar and attended Bollywood parties as part of the writing process.The book was released in 2006. Nawazuddin Siddiqui made one of his early screen appearances in a minor role in Anurag Kashyap’s unreleased Black Friday in 2004. Little did Siddiqui or Chandra know that their creative talents would come together and were fated to take on Netflix by storm decades later.This will go down as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s greatest role ever and the man scorches the screen every second he’s on it.When he is not on, his voice over holds sway over the audience. Sartaj Singh, a cop, the other central character in Sacred Games interestingly had made an appearance in Vikram Chandra’s earlier novel, Love and Longing in Bombay, I am told. Saif Ali Khan brings Sartaj Singh to life here and delivers a performance that is a testimony to the fact that Bollywood is a jungle where even the most talented artists could get lost for eternity. Anurag Kashyap has rescued Khan here from that jungle, so to speak, who has shown in the past that in the right hands, he could give the best in the business a run for their money. He plays Sartaj Singh with such depth and sensitivity that he has transformed himself completely into the character. Even his silences tell the audience stories here. Most notable is the scene where he meets constable Katekar’s wife. Katekar played brilliantly by Jitendra Joshi is an endearing character and is Sartaj’s sidekick, as the genre would have it. Radhika Apte is a no-nonsense intelligence officer who is far removed from the female cop characters we have come across on Indian screens. Luke Kenny, a familiar face on Channel V of yore is seen as an assassin here. Jatin Sarna makes an impression as Bunty, Gaitonde’s man. Rajshri Deshpande plays a different kind of gangster’s wife here, quite unlike anything that we have seen on Indian screens before. Kubra Sait is Kukoo the primary love interest in Gaitonde’s life, a character already being talked about in the media. Every other actor from Neeraj Kabi to Shalini Vatsa to Geetanjali Thapa lingers in your psyche as the characters they play. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have co- directed the series with Motwane working on the Sartaj timeframe of the story and Kashyap on the Gaitonde origins. The decision was right on the money given the fact that the urban landscape is where Motwane’s stories have flourished till now in contrast to the hinterlands that we are now familar with in Kashyap’s films.
Sacred Games is a case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art.The timing of the show could not have been more perfect, considering the central theme it deals with and the times we live in. In the Mumbai of Chandra, Kashyap and Motwane, the good guys are not that good and the bad are not exactly evil. The city decides the fate of the individual.Delhi, the power centre is no match for Mumbai, it’s a different world altogether, a character reiterates that in a line he speaks. Sacred Games explores the underbelly of Mumbai where agents of politics, businesses, movies and religion are indulged in a constant process of evolution in a struggle for power and control. Gaitonde is almost Forrest Gump here with major incidents that shook the nation in the past couple of decades proving turning points in his life as a career gangster. Even someone as dreaded as Gaitonde is a pawn in the hands of the people in power, politically. Motwane and Kashyap have successfully brought in an element of suspense and maintains it without losing their grip on the aesthetics of the tales being told. The series is particulary critical about the past governments who were in power when incidents which changed the country forever occurred. Sacred Games is what happens when an irresistible force in the entertainment industry like Netflix meets a filmmaker with immovable vision and outlook. Kashyap and Co. have come out all guns blazing here and have delivered a world class piece of entertainment. Looking forward to the next season and I think I’m going to revisit the book again.