Once in a very long while, comes a piece of art whose purpose belongs neither in interpretation nor in entertainment, but in salvation. Such works are usually enigmas that do not conform to conventional standards or stereotypes. Sacred Games is one such piece of a modern classic that constantly challenges its audience. The immense audacity and honesty with which the series has been realized is remarkable in itself. Taking into account the sheer volume of intertextuality that is presented, it would not be very difficult to understand this anachronistic yet intended retrospect into the show.
Sacred Games is one of the best gangster thrillers to have come out of Indian cinema. The first season was majorly rooted in that genre. But the second season takes it up to a whole new level. The series does two things that are nothing short of genius. First is the introduction of multiple layers in multiple areas. It takes up several themes and materializes each so well. We’ll get into the details of that later on. The second amazing thing is the intermingling of the various genres and sub-genres.
Like I said before, the first season was heavily reliant on the single action sub-genre.
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But the second season of Sacred Games breaks all genre and theme boundaries. It brings so much more: thrill, conspiracy, soul-searching, complex yet easily understandable time jumps, revenge, action, psychological thrill and so many more sub-genres that is anyway impossible to master individually. And yet, the series blends all these things together and masterfully crafts it with great attention to detail. This results in a piece of work that is not only one of the best artistic presentations but one that transcends cultures and has a universal appeal.
The atmosphere is quite similar to the first season but it manages to somehow construct a personality of its own. The style of execution itself is not that different but you would easily be able to identify between the two seasons. This must be owing to the fact that the second season was co-directed by Neeraj Ghaywan while the first one was directed by Motwane. The similarities that persist owe themselves to Anurag Kashyap, who was the constant factor in the equation. And the permanence of the creative voice is definitely associated with Motwane’s initial role as the showrunner during season 1.
I quite appreciate the approaches and subtle differences in the choices made. This allows for different packaging of the same sought-after product that we have come to know and love as Sacred Games. It is a wonderful step in the direction of preserving the longevity of the series as a whole and clearly depicts the adaptability of the filmmakers involved in the creation process.
Coming back to the two genius ideas I spoke earlier about, the first season is clearly inspired directly from the novel. The main contribution of the filmmakers is the seamless transition between the two seasons with the narrative morphing into something more complex and multi-layered. Nevertheless, both the seasons work in unison. There are varied and intense shifts in tones throughout the second season itself. But they have been woven together with such mastery that it does not seem to affect the viewing experience at all. On the contrary, enhances it by providing the viewers with themes that are vastly varied, unexpected and unpredictably linked with one another.
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The butterfly effect is in full swing in season 2. The smallest and most insignificant of coincidences can lead to the most devastating of revelations. There are some pretty grievous ones out there that could rock the world of some hardcore fans. But let us keep this one spoiler-free.
The second aspect of multi-layering the whole thing on top of itself is nothing short of a masterstroke. It simulates the effect of an autobiographical or at least a biographical work. Combine that with the voice-overs and they give us a pseudo-first-person narrative feel, whose purpose since the olden days has been the enhancement of the believability of the material presented. I greatly appreciate this often unnoticed facet. The series contains a lot of events that have been straight up taken from our history books. And infusing this style into it severely enhances the stakes. We feel that the story being told is real. The threats appear to be life-threatening and this affords a lot of gravitas to the series and the characters as a whole.
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Another very beautiful and artistic aspect that we get from this multi-layered narrative is the depth. Every subsequent episode leaves you more unsettled. The series never fails to heighten the tension and thrill factor while doing full justice to the artistic calibre of the creators. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason or one driving factor for it. But one thing that is undisputed is the fact that the departures that have been taken from the original source material, Vikram Chandra’s book, do truly enhance the on-screen adaption quality.
For instance, the new character Batya, played by the very talented Kalki Koechlin has a lot to add to the extended narrative of Sacred Games. Such similar additions to both plot and characters have resulted in the creation of a world that is quite different from that of the book and suits the tone of the adaptation more than the original source material would have.
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Now, everyone would agree that the best thing about the show is the performances. Every actor is diligently invested in his/her work. It takes a lot to have the viewers hooked in for the length of a web series. And in the case of Sacred Games, which is 8 episodes long, it takes an immense amount of attention to move through a non-linear storyline that jumps from one timeline to another. So, it helps to have actors who’re able to portray people who we really care about. And fortunately, Sacred Games pulls it off with ease. With skilled actors like Nawazuddin, Pankaj Tripathi, Saif Ali Khan at the forefront, the task becomes a breeze. Their portrayals make it a convoluted plot a lot more entertaining and fun. We have already been well acquainted with Nawaz’s Gaitonde but in the second season, Tripathi’s Guruji gets his turn to shine.
We witness something that is extremely peaceful yet menacing at the same time. Unquestionably, Pankaj Tripathi was perfect for this role. His demeanour suggests the calm before the storm. His powerful presence makes it more of a challenge to question his very questionable motives within the series. You almost feel like siding with him yet there exists an invisible barrier around him that sends off an ominous vibe and does not give you access to his innermost thoughts. His intentions are not made clear but his intent pierces through you. He delivers an award-worthy performance through this role.
Nawaz, on the other hand, plays someone who is very easy to read yet quite unpredictable. That combination is a dangerous one as it leads to the creation of a loose cannon. He has the ability to destroy the entire world if he desires so. His role in this movie is explored to a greater detail as he searches, intently, for his purpose in life. The existential crisis of the dangerous criminal is taken into account and portrayed with such deft writing, that it takes up a big part of the focus of the show. The way the dynamic between Gaitonde and Guruji works is also very interesting. Both of them are Gods in their own universes. As long as they are within their spheres, nothing can touch them. But when their worlds begin to collide, it all becomes a conundrum.
Gaitonde’s search for a purpose and his desire to be remembered and revered takes up a major part of that dynamic and is used as a factor that Guruji exploits in order to make Gaitonde his most powerful puppet. If we focus on the character, I must say that both the writers and the actor have done a marvellous job. The many nuances of the human brain are deeply explored, dramatised and dissected. The deconstruction of Gaitonde will lead to an exaggerated version of an average human being. His will to live on through stories is very reminiscent of the English Romantic poet Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias. The symbolic immortality has been humanity’s persistent desire down through the ages. Using an art like cinema to show this is just an extended metaphor for the longevity of art over human life.
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Sacred Games dwells deep into the individual and humanity as a whole while balancing both the aspects and their interactions with each other. It delves right into the eye of the hurricane as it exhibits the conflicts that the human race has caused over the years and how the world is suffering because of them. The ages of Sattva (purity) and Tamas (darkness) and their overarching concepts play a definitive role in this deliberation. The move from a world of darkness into a world of light and what constitutes this darkness and what makes up purity are up for debate within the context of the show as much as in the present universe.
I felt that Sacred Games was tailored specifically in order to appeal to both art-house movie lovers as well as the traditional movie-going audience. This impossible balance has crept into the series and has been seamlessly integrated into it.
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Another very appreciable technical detail is the switch between the anamorphic and spherical lenses during the segments of Sartaj and Gaitonde, respectively. This affords an additional, subconscious sense of mystery to Sartaj’s world and a very real and flamboyant personality to Gaitonde. These subtle details are what make Sacred Games what it is.
The internationally acclaimed series is one of the best, globally and has elements that can rival the brilliance of classics. The series has a magnificent grasp on its higher form and purpose. It brilliantly showcases the fears and faults of humanity while highlighting the sanctity of life. It is a dilemma in itself which compels one to think, avidly, about the reason for one’s existence. Bring in with it a very Darwinian analogy of the world and you get a masterpiece that not only questions your presence but also the presence of humanity on this earth. For me, if a work of art can invoke such deep and profound philosophical deliberations, it has me in. But Sacred Games isn’t just that. It has a lot more to offer.
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Sacred Games is a gangster tale that explores the innards of a corrupt human society destined to destruction and damnation. It is a psychological thriller that presses on the issue of the reemergence of a species into a new world free of vices. One simply cannot expect anything more dynamic, more sophisticated and more enjoyable than this. It’s the closest thing to perfection. Sacred Games is strongly recommended. You’re sure to be pleasantly surprised!
By Deepjyoti Roy