Directors: Neeraj Ghaywan, Anurag Kashyap
Writers: Vikram Chandra (novel), Varun Grover, Smita Singh, Vasant Nath
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Pankaj Tripathi, Kalki Koechlin, Amruta Subhash, Ranvir Shorey
The trailer of season two of Sacred Games shows Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) thirsty for revenge against those who had put him in prison. But as season two proceeds, you realise his revenge is hardly material to the plot. There’s more at stake than settling personal scores here.
If season one was about connecting the dots between Gaitonde and Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan), season two unravels a design that could have devastating repercussions. A nuclear threat looms, against the backdrop of communal conflict.
A key pivot is the character of Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi), a self-styled godman and Gaitonde’s ‘third father’. His lieutenant is Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin). The plot also involves some national and international forces, namely Kusum Devi Yadav (Amruta Subhash), a RAW agent, and Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey), a Pakistani intelligence officer with no love for India.
The story begins with Gaitonde captive on a boat in the middle of the ocean. It’s here that he meets agent Yadav, who sends him to Kenya. Gaitonde becomes Vivian Shah, and builds an empire in Mombasa smuggling drugs and weapons. But this time, he isn’t the powerful, swaggering gangster of old. He’s vulnerable, besieged by insecurity and an identity crisis. Gaitonde’s state of mind makes him easy prey for Guruji, who runs an ashram teeming with drugs and sex in Croatia. The characters of Guruji and Batya Abelman will remind viewers of Wild Wild Country.
Meanwhile, Sartaj Singh has finally found some respect in the police force. He is asked to lead a case investigating terror links with Islamist groups, and is growing in confidence. But he still has inner demons to deal with. Sartaj’s colleague Majid Khan (Aamir Bashir) has a meatier role this season. While Sartaj and Majid shared cold vibes earlier, they respect each other now. An insight into Majid’s personal life shows that he is a victim of communal prejudice.
One can’t help but feel that the plot has shades of a Dan Brown novel – an influential personality with a dangerous idea of an ideal world, humanity under threat, a race against time. In fact, it is worthy to note that Jojo Mascarenas wears a cilice (a spiked belt worn to inflict self-punishment) on her leg just like Silas, a character in The Da Vinci Code.
The build-up in the first three episodes may seem slow, but the makers have done a great job in crafting a gripping story. Almost every episode ends in a cliffhanger (including the last). A lot of questions arise as you make your way through the season. What role has Sartaj’s father Dilbagh Singh played in the set-up? Where does Jojo Mascarenas fit in the scheme of things? And what secret does the Kaal Granth, a book written by Guruji, hold? All of these are answered in due course. However the final episode is a bit of a dampener; it’s not the the sort of rousing climax one is led to expect.
The tame end is somewhat mitigated by the performances that, given the cast, are naturally top notch. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Gaitonde provides comic relief with his bossy dialogue delivery but also evokes sympathy as a vulnerable individual. Saif Ali Khan perfectly essays the role of a morally upright guy trying to hold onto his principles in a world of corrupt, bloodthirsty men. He’s the guy you root for throughout. Pankaj Tripathi is eerily calm as Guruji, and brings to life a character that’s deceptively approachable. However the standout performers of the season are Surveen Chawla and Amruta Subhash. Chawla does a splendid job playing the foul-mouthed, suicidal Jojo Mascarenas, whereas Subhash is brilliant as the composed and unsmiling RAW operative.
Unfortunately, Ranvir Shorey doesn’t get enough screen time to do complete justice to Shahid Khan. He doesn’t feature in the first three episodes, though he gets plenty of mentions and his role is unsatisfactorily sketchy, leaving one to guess his motives.
As Netflix India’s first original series, Sacred Games set the bar high with its first season. The second season manages to hold the bar with fantastic performances and a plot that reaches beyond gangland rivalries to tackle relevant communal issues.