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Kayakalp: Why Sacred Games could be Indian television’s Lagaan moment

The first Netflix original India series, Sacred Games, represents a brave new direction that Indian television could take.

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Ja ke dekh record mein, kaun hai! Insaan hai ke bhagwan?”

Ganesh Eknath Gaitonde calls Sartaj Singh one night, like a god, and thus begins a story that would eventually take hold of both on-screen characters and audiences off it.

Aham Brahmasmi,” he tells Sartaj later on; underlining the god complex that Gaitonde is suffering from in the story. Sartaj is the confused soul and Gaitonde pretends to show him the way. Sacred Games is a story of these two voices, their story arcs intersecting somewhere in different time periods.

Gaitonde is played by the absolutely brilliant Nawazuddin Siddiqui, while the Sikh cop, Sartaj Singh, is played by Saif Ali Khan, who also does a good job. Netflix’s first original India series is based on a book by the same name, written by Vikram Chandra. The voluminous novel has been adapted for the screen by Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath. The adaptation stays true to the atmospherics of the book and manages to recreate a compelling, dark, dingy underbelly of the metropolis called Mumbai.

The series is a carefully choreographed dance of Mumbai underworld, and the city’s police and political forces, both local and national. Two of India’s top film directors, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, come together to direct this breakthrough series. This isn’t a first for an Indian television series; Ramesh Sippy (Buniyaad), Shyam Benegal (Discovery of India) and Basu Chatterjee (Byomkesh Bakshi) have done it earlier too.

In Kashyap’s first feature film, Black Friday, the chief investigator of Bombay blasts (played by KK) interrogates Asghar Muqadam. A scared, breathless, slightly incoherent Muqadam was performed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui; his first famous movie scene. In Sacred Games, Kashyap directs underworld don Gaitonde’s story. Nawazuddin performs the role as if Chandra wrote it in the book with only him in mind.

Unlike Muqadam, Gaitonde is not scared or incoherent. He, after all, thinks he is god. And he draws the queasy Sartaj Singh in. The story then keeps shuttling between the past and the present as layer after layer is carefully revealed to the viewer and an engrossing puzzle slowly falls into place. Saif Ali Khan does a good job as Sartaj, portraying his doubts, his helplessness and his curiosity well on the screen. Director Vikramaditya Motwane helms Sartaj’s story in the series and brings out those layers well as Sartaj battles with his past and present.

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