ⓘ Sacred Games (TV series)


ⓘ Sacred Games (TV series)

Sacred Games is an Indian web television thriller series based on Vikram Chandras 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, 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, Aamir Bashir, Jatin Sarna, Elnaaz Norouzi, Pankaj Tripathi, Amey Wagh, and Kubbra Sait.

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 Chandras 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 Gaitondes. Swapnil Sonawane was the director of photography for Motwane, while Sylvester Fonseca and Aseem Bajaj filmed the scenes directed by Kashyap.Anshuman Singhs Casting House casted for the same. Aarti Bajaj was the editor, and Alokananda Dasgupta composed the background score.

The first four episodes of Sacred Games premiered on 29 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 of Sacred Games was premiered on 15 August 2019.


1. Premise

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 Indias dark underworld. In the journey, Singh is helped by Research and Analysis Wing officer Anjali Mathur while flashbacks detail Gaitondes origins and how he rose to power as crime lord of Mumbai. The first season follows Singh trying to uncover clues about Gaitondes past while also learning of a connection between Gaitonde and his father.

In season two, Gaitondes 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 peace and conflict. In flashback, Gaitondes 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 by RAW officer Yadav who tries to keep Gaitondes rival and archenemy Suleiman Isa alive - much to the latters dismay - so she can eventually capture and kill the dangerous extremist Shahid Khan who harbours plans to wipe out India.


2. Episodes

Two seasons, each consisting of eight episodes, have been aired. The first season premiered on 5 July 2018 on Netflix, while the second season was released on 15 August 2019.


3.1. Production Development

Erik Barmack, the vice president of Netflix, came across Vikram Chandras 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 Chandras 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 "dont 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 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 Singhs sequences with "worn-out but very warm lenses that reflect how nothing is working out in Sartajs life." Yellow colour palettes 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 Gaitondes 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.


3.2. Production Season 2

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. 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.


4. Release

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 Workers 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 Gandhis 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 Sacred Games was watched by twice as many people outside of India.


5. Reception

After release, the series received positive reviews from critics, with praise for the performances. The show holds a 92% certified fresh rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 6.62 out of 10. The critical consensus reads: "Gorgeous, grim, and unexpected, Sacred Games is saved from its procedural premise by its dense plotting and superb cast."

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 novels 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, "Whats commendable is that Sacred Games chooses compassion over glorification." Swetha Ramakrishnan of Firstpost called it a "high benchmark for Indias 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 shows probing, introspective nature turns a cliched crime-saga to a biting commentary on the zeitgeist. Its relevance to our current moment cannot be overstated." Siddhant Adlakha of IGN felt the series depicted women as the "collateral damage to the stories of men." He went on to say that the series is "alluring, but frustrating."

Aditya Shrikrishna of The New Indian Express praised the performances of Kubbra Sait as Kukoo and Jitendra Joshi as Katekar, He called Katekar "probably the best translated character and storyline from the novel to the screen." Urvi Parikh called the series "gripping", "intriguing" and "absolutely thrilling" and "exactly the Web series we have been waiting for". Shweta Keshri of India Today praised Siddiquis acting and said that he "makes you believe that no one could have played Gaitonde better." Tanul Thakur of The Wire felt the series was a "much leaner, condensed version of its source, trying to locate the novels moral and philosophical centre". He called it a "commendable, much-needed approach" that seems to be in a "needless hurry". Prashant Rao of The Hindu expressed that series captures the spirit of the book. He also praised Khans performance, stating that he "brings alive his characters midlife crises and the many compromises Singh makes to inhabit a good cop zone with skill and dexterity."

Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter stated that "there are clear flaws" while also mentioning that "theres something riveting about Indias 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 maximalism 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 Indias political corruption." He, however pointed out that some elements in the story "will puzzle viewers not familiar with Indias tangled religious tensions and caste system." Kaitlin Reily of Refinery29 called it a "juicy crime thriller that combines a hardboiled detective story with magical realism." Lincoln Michel of GQ called it the "best Netflix original in years."


6. Awards

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.