A mysterious phone call puts the life of an already overstressed cop in disarray. The caller warns him that there are only 25 days before he can save the city of Mumbai. A few minutes into the very first episode of Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane's Sacred Games and you know it's worthy of your attention. After all, there's nothing better than a gripping, well-written saga of a cat and mouse game to hold you to the edge of your seats.
The very first frame of Sacred Games, with a dog being hauled to death from a multi-storeyed building, prepares you for what lies ahead. It's grim, gritty... there's a generous dose of expletives... this ain't a bed of roses. Fair disclaimer for those whose stomach might churn watching some of the graphic content on screen that spans over four decades.
Everyone in this universe is a manipulator. Their personal gains send them towards a web of betrayal, lies, and deceit. It's these flawed characters that endear us to them. It's the imperfections we identify with since it could easily be any of us in their place.
Sacred Games also deserves kudos for attempting a novelty when it comes to the portrayal of transgender characters. It's easy to cast a man in place and follow a familiar trope, but Kubbra Sait as Cuckoo is a revelation. The character also helps to show the humane side of Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddique), who by now, everyone would have known to be the mysterious caller taunting an anxiety-ridden cop Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan).
Coming to the performances, Saif is a winner all the way. Shown as a worrywart, be it expressing his anguish when a young Muslim boy is shot for no fault of his own or feeling miserably let down for failing to save those who trusted him, he steals the show. A few kilos to his physique also helps with the characterisation... one that's riddled with personal and professional woes.
Blame it on them having done such roles before, I found Nawaazuddin Siddique and Radhika Apte just apt but not mindblowing. This is, of course, IMO.
Knowing that it's penned by Kashyap and Motwane, you can't ignore the subtle references to the rising intolerance in the country, even if it's made to look like part of the narrative, going with the proceedings. We aren't missing the mirror to society. Or the rebuke, albeit a soft one, the makers give out. To whom? Your guess is as good as mine.
There are a few doses of feminism also. Expected. Sample this. "When a man decides to take on a so-called dangerous mission, it's passion. But if a woman dares to do it, it's mindless obsession!" Radhika Apte tells a colleague.
The narrative, for the most part, is linear. Cinematography is one of the biggest strengths of Sacred Games. The hues go with the mood of the characters, if you know what we mean, or you shall if you decide to give it a try. The cuts (Aarti Bajaj) are fine as well. The BGM (credited to multiple composers) also seamlessly blends in.
Sacred Games isn't without its share of shortcomings though. An underperforming cop who has to put up with the shenanigans of a corrupt boss, politicians, and gangsters who, for the most part, follow cliches, a loyal sidekick... stuff we have seen innumerable times on the screen. Nevertheless, praise be upon the writers for showing two sides of the police battalion - ones who swarm around with apathy amongst those who wear their uniform on their sleeves.
A few characters also seem unnecessary. Like the instance, when an actress has to deal with an overbearing boyfriend, perhaps just to infuse into the narrative, the influence she can exert on the top police official of the city to get rid of him.
All in all, I would give this a thumbs-up and a rating of 3.5 on 5. Go for it, in case, you haven't done it so far! And watch Sacred Games 2 that releases on Netflix on August 15.