India Today - - LEISURE - —Shree­vatsa Ne­va­tia

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

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