Sacred Games is rewarding crime drama with flair and firepower

Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center
Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center /

Sacred Games, the first Netflix original series from India, is a gritty crime show set in the city of Mumbai. Following the recent international debuts of Dark and 3%, does the series live up to expectations?

When Netflix announced in April that they were planning to raise nearly $2 billion in debt financing to create original content, it felt like the company was overestimating themselves. However, the continued success of titles like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things prove they are secure content-wise. The safety net created by established shows allows Netflix to develop obscure titles or invest in international content.

In an attempt to grow viewership in India, Netflix has committed to producing seven originals in the country. Sacred Games was the first series slated for release, so there was pressure for it to do well.

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Directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, the eight-episode first season is set in 2004 and follows a police officer named Sartaj who is warned by a ruthless crime boss of an attack on the city of Mumbai in 25 days. Sartaj struggles against the rampant corruption in his department, complications from the foreign intelligence agency RAW, and the truth behind Ganesh Gaitonde’s warning.

Based on a novel written by Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games is a fairly straightforward story told with a lot of ambition. The series, however, surpasses similar crime dramas with a well-executed focus on characters and its unique style.

Inconsistent pacing is seemingly the only major setback for a series that otherwise boasts crisp directing, remarkable acting, and an examination of Indian social climate.

Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center
Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center /

Strong characters are front and center.

Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan plays Sartaj, which is certainly one of his most serious and ambitious roles to date. Sartaj is honest cop working in a corrupt department and living in the shadows of his former cop father. Until he received a phone call from Gaitonde, a notorious gangster who has been missing for years, he struggled finding a purpose.

Sartaj is a cop archetype American audiences are used to, yet Khan delivers a striking performance that is enhanced by his subtlety and intensity on-screen.

Opposite of Khan is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Gaitonde. Gaitonde is a violent gangster who rose to power in the underworld of Mumbai but has been hiding for years. Gaitonde tells his story in a series of flashbacks that depict a murderous man who believes he’s higher than God. In the premiere, Gaitonde reveals his connection to Sartaj in a phone call and warns of an impending doomsday.

Siddiqui takes what could have been a flat character and develops him into a complex figure that keeps you guessing. He delivers a compelling portrayal of a crime boss and makes every second on-screen count.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the series is the strength of its secondary female characters. Radhika Apte’s performance is distinctive and potent as Anjali Mathur, a RAW agent, as she tries to uncover the truth behind the upcoming attack. Additionally, Kubra Sait stuns and surprises in her performance as Kukoo, a young woman at the heart of Mumbai’s underworld.

Both women succeed in matching the intensity of their male co-stars and often outperform them as well. Though there might be some problems with where the female characters end up by the series, that is a topic for another day.

Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center
Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center /

Distinct tone and style.

Sacred Games is noticeably dark and intense in the Sartaj storyline especially. There is rarely a moment of joy or happiness in the story and the cinematography highlights this. The tone is overwhelmingly somber and there is heavy usage of shadows and dark imagery. The striking darkness often emphasizes the dire situation our characters find themselves in and contributes to the mood.

The only tonal break comes from the flashbacks told by Gaitonde. When focused on Gaitonde’s past, the directors chose to create a distinctly different, brighter atmosphere. However, murder and violence offset the brighter mood with bloody imagery. The storytelling technique’s of Kashyap and Motwane maintain the show’s intrigue and ramp up the mystery, as they never dwell on either story line too long.

The color palette is distinguished primarily by warm yellow and red tones. These warm colors not only set the series apart stylistically, but they also develop the mood established by the directors.

Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center
Sacred Games, photo Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix via Media Center /

Religion: a tool for control and power.

Sacred Games, religion is a central theme. The opening line of narration even asks viewers if they believe in God. Gaitonde himself rejects religion yet claims to be above God, demanding his followers be loyal and denounce their religion.

Gaitonde and his story line is focused on religion. His father was a priest, he worked at a Hindu restaurant, and a smuggler Gaitonde worked for told him he would be immortal if Gaitonde killed him. Gaitonde often insists that religion does not matter to him but finds himself at the heart of the Bombay riots, which was an escalation in religious hostility between Hindus and Muslims.

The series is conscious of the intricate religious background in India and aims discuss the consequences or causes of the strife. Sacred Games uses Gaitonde as a conduit to comment on how religion can control people in the right situation.

The verdict: Sacred Games is exactly the show Netflix was hoping for.

The combination of solid performances, well-balanced directing, and social commentary make Sacred Games a compelling crime drama that all audiences can enjoy. Sacred Games deserves to be seen not only because it is the first Netflix original series from India, but also because it is an intense, skillfully constructed show. A good story and cast make for an enjoyable time, though show has some flaws.

There is a lot of promise for the show and high hopes for the next season if Netflix renews it. The hope is that Sacred Games can maintain some momentum and carry it into the next. After all, Sartaj only has 13 days left to save Mumbai.

Next: Does American Vandal deserve an Emmy nomination?

What did you think of Sacred Games? Would you watch another season if it get renewed? Leave your answer in the comments.