THE IN­CEP­TION OF ‘SA­CRED GAMES’

The whole coun­try and the world is talk­ing about In­dia’s first orig­i­nal Net­flix show, Sa­cred Games, which has put the coun­try on the map of stream­ing shows. With com­pe­ti­tion from Nar­cos and other al­ready es­tab­lished pop­u­lar gang­ster genre TV shows, Sa­cred

Society - - CONTENTS - By RahulPaul

The show of the hour Sa­cred Games de­serves all the at­ten­tion it’s get­ting. We have got some lesser known se­crets and facts for you straight from the writ­ers and mak­ers of the show. Spoil­ers ahead...

First things first, we need to ap­plaud the writer of the book, Sa­cred Games, Vikram Chan­dra, who pro­vided the base for this his­tor­i­cal event to take place. The book nar­rates an un­canny con­nec­tion be­tween Sar­taj Singh, an hon­est but un­lucky cop, and Ganesh Gaitonde, a big gang­ster from the Mumbai of the ’90s. The book was ear­lier auc­tioned to an­other for a se­ries. The pilot was made in English lan­guage as the book is writ­ten in the same lan­guage, but it didn’t work out. Net­flix then ac­quired the rights of the book and ap­proached Phan­tom Films, Mumbai, and met Anurag Kashyap and Vikra­ma­ditya Motwane.

The Sa­cred Hunt For Screen­writ­ers

The deal was done, and Net­flix had placed its trust on a con­tent-ori­ented pro­duc­tion house. Now be­gan the hunt for the writ­ers who would turn the 900-page book into a fi­nite stream­ing show. Datta Dave (of Tulsea Pic­tures) rep­re­sents a lot of screen­writ­ers in the coun­try, in­clud­ing Varun Grover, the na­tional award-win­ning lyri­cist, who has writ­ten the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Masaan. Datta, dur­ing the In­dian Screen­writ­ing Con­fer­ence 2016, told Varun about the se­ries and that Phan­tom was look­ing for writ­ers. Varun ini­tially refused to do it as he was work­ing on mak­ing his own film, but Datta in­sisted on him read­ing the book be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion. Varun’s main ap­pre­hen­sion was to­wards the gang­ster genre of the book which is done to death in In­dia, but 400 pages into the book and he was hooked. Af­ter three days, Varun was roped into the writ­ing team of Sa­cred Games. The fe­male screen­writer of the show, Smita Singh, was also man­aged by Datta and just like Varun, she had her con­cerns too. Her main con­cern was that the book be­ing a cops and rob­bers kind shouldn’t leave her to write only the fe­male char­ac­ters. As a writer, she’s en­thralled by the life of cops and would want to write ev­ery­thing about cops, given a choice. Her con­vinc­ing mo­ment was on the day the themes of the book were dis­cussed which left her teary eyed. The third screen­writer of the show, Vas­ant Nath, who has as­sisted di­rec­tor Deepa Mehta and has made award-win­ning short films, was also daz­zled by the of­fer of writ­ing a vi­o­lent se­ries as it was not his genre. The writ­ing of the book, which Vas­ant de­scribes as ‘some­thing that is dark but has been turned into a thing of beauty by Mr Chan­dra’, drew him in. Also, Datta gave Vas­ant the book, The TV Showrun­ner’s Roadmap, to ease him into the process. He was con­fi­dent that af­ter read­ing the book, he’d be­come a master of the ‘Writ­ers Room’ but weeks into the script­ing, he re­alised that none of that ac­tu­ally worked.

The Process Of Adapt­ing A Book Into A Script

In the first month, the writ­ers just dis­cussed the book like fan boys. What­ever jumped at them com­monly was put in the ‘def­i­nitely to be in­cluded’ part. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, they made the­o­ries about the books and char­ac­ters like fans do. Mantra Watsa, the writ­ing room and re­search as­sis­tant, broke the book into chap­ter syn­op­sis and what hap­pens to Sar­taj or Gaitonde de­pend­ing on whose chap­ter it was, in­clud­ing the key scenes or mono­logues in the par­tic­u­lar chap­ter. All of that con­densed it into a 70-page doc­u­ment which was like an in­dex for the book. In the process, the broader themes of the book were listed down. Step two was work­ing on the char­ac­ters of both Sar­taj and Gaitonde. A list of 10 ma­jor char­ac­ters, each from both the episode and sea­son arcs per­spec­tive, was made and their sto­ries were dis­cussed in brief for the next two months. The third step was to work on the sea­son and the episode arcs, but re­ally broad ones. An­other two months later, af­ter form­ing all the char­ac­ter arcs, the main story was put to­gether. Now, the se­ries is pre­sented in two phases—Sar­taj’s present and Gaitonde’s past. There­fore, through the point-of-view of both Sar­taj and Gaitonde, where all the char­ac­ters fit in the present story was an­a­lysed, which took an­other two months. Af­ter that, the episode out­lines were drafted. The drafts went back and forth to Net­flix for the feed­back process which took an­other two months. There is a par­tic­u­lar for­mat for these shows. The hook points need to be there at the end of the show so that it is binge-able and people start the next episode and then the next episode. Varun says, “We had never dealt with a chan­nel or net­work that gives you such de­tailed feed­back. For a six-page out­line, we’d get a five or six-page feed­back. It was strange ini­tially be­cause in In­dia, we are used to the simple feed­back like, ‘ Maza nahi aaya’. Ini­tially of course we were ir­ri­tated, but once we started see­ing how it was chang­ing our episodes and trans­lat­ing into the next draft and made it bet­ter, it was re­fresh­ing.” Af­ter lock­ing the episode out­lines, the episodes were di­vided be­tween the writ­ers, and the screen­play writ­ing process be­gan. But this led to chang­ing of the out­lines as in some places the logic was not work­ing, or they felt a char­ac­ter could flour­ish bet­ter. This was the last step but then again, there were four or five drafts for every screen­play. That was the broad process. “One ma­jor chunk was the re­search we did that made it real. I mean, you don’t see why there is a fish tank which Katekar feeds. That’s be­cause Smita Nair from In­dian Ex­press told us that every po­lice sta­tion in Mumbai had a fish tank. It started with one po­lice com­mis­sioner in Bom­bay who loved fish, so he got a fish tank in his of­fice. See­ing him, his ju­niors also in­stalled fish tanks just to please him. Now the com­mis­sioner was re­tired or trans­ferred, but the fish tanks re­mained,

and no­body re­mem­bers the mythol­ogy be­hind it. These nuggets of in­for­ma­tion that came from Smita Nair’s re­search make the view­ing more real. So, we used to write the out­line of the episode and send it to Smita and she’d come back with 100 sto­ries to put ev­ery­where. Things like ‘ Bhag­waan ka aadmi hai ’ is a lingo of the Mumbai po­lice and gang­sters. It means that a guy is safe and good, some­body you can trust. We have Gaitonde say­ing that about Dil­bag Singh, some­thing which won’t be ap­par­ent while you watch,” the writ­ers reveal. Also, last year in June, when the writ­ers had only writ­ten one episode and the shoot was about to start in the next three months, Vikram took all of them to Goa for two weeks for a break.

Vikra­ma­ditya Motwane as The Showrun­ner

“I had to Google the term. One stub­born thing that I ac­tu­ally did on the show was that we had the op­tion of get­ting a show run­ner to guide us through the pro­cesses, but I did not take it be­cause I wanted that we do it our­selves. If we didn’t do it our­self, it wouldn’t be uniquely In­dian, and it wouldn’t be our voice. At the time, I was strug­gling with the de­ci­sion, but I am glad now be­cause it got us a unique voice,” Motwane con­fesses. Net­flix did it re­ally well—the show run­ner is ba­si­cally a con­stant creative voice through­out the show. When there are three very strong minds work­ing on the show, there can be a ten­dency for the show to go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Motwane pulled them when­ever needed to make sure that there was just the right amount of pace and drama in each episode.

Dur­ing The Shoot And Ed­its

Both Anurag Kashyap and Vikra­ma­ditya Motwane di­rected the se­ries to­gether. Anurag cap­tured the his­tory of Nawazud­din Sid­diqui as Ganesh Gaitonde in his sig­na­ture Gangs of Wassey­pur style and Motwane shot the Saif Ali Khan as Sar­taj Singh se­quence. Ini­tially, 10 episodes were writ­ten down be­cause stream­ing plat­forms pre­fer a 10-episode sea­son. But, the writ­ers thought if they could crunch it into eight to make it denser. So, an eight-episode sea­son was de­cided. But while edit­ing, Motwane re­alised that it was get­ting too con­gested and they would need an­other episode. And very se­ri­ously, the writ­ers started look­ing for ad­di­tional hook points to fin­ish the ex­tra episodes. But when one episode started get­ting too slow, they came back to eight episodes as planned ini­tially. How did it look in the edit room? “It is im­pos­si­ble to know if some­thing will work or not while you are work­ing on it. The only thing you can know is that it’s not hor­ri­ble, and that’s all you need to know at that point. Af­ter the shoot­ing started and even in the ed­its, we just thought that it was not hor­ri­ble. Then, there are mo­ments when you know some­thing is new and that we have achieved some­thing. Like, for ex­am­ple, the day we came up with the idea that Gaitonde’s girl­friend would be Kukoo, which is not there in the book. In the book, she’s just men­tioned in a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two con­sta­bles—Kukoo was a bar dancer and was ac­tu­ally a man. The two pas­sages about some con­sta­ble be­ing in love with her 20 years ago led to the idea. Why don’t we bring Kukoo as Gaitonde’s girl­friend and cre­ate a con­tention be­tween Isa and Gaitonde? So, this was some­thing that we knew was new, but ‘new’ can also back­fire some­times, it didn’t this time, mir­a­cle,” says Varun. Just like the se­ries’ suc­cess, we say!

Vikra­ma­ditya Motwane, Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vas­ant Nath at MAMI

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