THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
SEASON TWO OF SACRED GAMES SPEEDS THINGS UP WITHOUT SACRIFICING ITS RESTRAINT
Adoomsday makes the calendar all-important. Invariably, the genre necessitates a countdown. In the first season of Sacred Games, Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) had told Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) that he had 25 days to save Mumbai. The second season picks up from the halfway mark. The action is, of course, accelerated. The climax makes clear heroes and villains of otherwise grey characters, but the show, for most part, never really forsakes its trademark polyphony for cheap thrills.
Given the number of players that the plot involves, it’s easy to think of Sacred Games as a cinematic orchestra. Rather than just stick to classical motifs, however, the show, much like Vikram Chandra’s novel which it adapts, alternates between several genres. With cops and gangsters both faced with existential crises, the violence stops seeming meaningless and gratuitous. Characters are not just props that add to the final body count. They each have a back story, each implicated by some grand narrative.
Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi), for instance, is only interested in grand plans. For him, the Indo-Pakistan conflict is “a clash of civilisations” and, as
one of his disciples once says, his goal is not to better India’s future, but rather to return it to a golden past whose virtues had been extolled by Hindu scriptures. This sentiment is contemporary, yes, but the show never belabours that point. After having persuaded them with hallucinogens and obscure myths, Guruji often demands that his followers make a sacrifice.
In hindsight, this notion of ‘sacrifice’ seems to define Sacred Games. Almost all its characters are asked to give up something or someone they once held dear and it is this very human dilemma that ties together its Hindu fanatics and Islamic terrorists. The Netflix show itself sacrifices excess. You find yourself moved by precisely those scenes where the emotional upholstery has been carefully stripped.
Directors Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan must, of course, be lauded for ensuring restraint from Tripathi, Khan and Siddiqui, but it’s the women of this second season— Kusum Yadav (Amruta Subhash), Jojo (Surveen Chawla), Batya (Kalki Koechlin)—who seem to have been given more than just agency. They interrupt Gaitonde. They stand up to him. As Gaitonde admits himself, “I can only count, but she knows the math.” Only when the last episode leaves you hanging, does it then start to add up. ■
PULP FICTION Nawazuddin (left) and Siddiqui; Khan in Saif Ali SacredGames