Sacred Games: Radhika Apte on playing a RAW agent, the freedom that comes with a Netflix series

Neerja Deodhar

Jul 12, 2018 12:30:15 IST

(Editor's note: On several dusty, balmy afternoons in Mumbai, two directors and Netflix India recreated a world that the city was familiar with during the 80s and 90s — of mobs, drugs, shootouts and rampant crime. This would serve as the backdrop for the upcoming series Sacred Games, releasing on Netflix on 6 July. During tea breaks and in the middle of re-shoots, Firstpost caught up with the cast and crew of the show for a five-part series of conversations with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Saif Ali Khan. In Part 5, Radhika Apte talks about what she learnt while preparing to play a RAW agent.)

"You can't wear anything that makes any sound, you can't wear anything flashy, you can't wear anything that will catch someone's attention. You have to be so discrete that no one will recognise you." An animated Radhika Apte is explaining to us how a RAW agent must function, and she looks the part: She is wearing a green kurta and no visible make-up — a nondescript look which would allow her to go unnoticed in a crowd if she wasn't a well-known actress. She plays Anjali Mathur, an agent who used to have a desk job but is now venturing into fieldwork.

She says she was interested in Sacred Games when she was given a narration, much before the final scripts for the eight episodes could be finished. "The fact that it is the first Indian Netflix original was exciting for me, as was the fact that Vikramaditya Motwane would be directing the plotline involving my character. I'd never worked with him before. When I read the script, I really liked it, and I found my part interesting," she says.

 Sacred Games: Radhika Apte on playing a RAW agent, the freedom that comes with a Netflix series

Radhika Apte in a still from Sacred Games. All images courtesy of Netflix

The character Apte plays does not find a large place in Vikram Chandra's book which the series is based on, but is quite fleshed out in the script. "I didn't read the book. I thought it is better to approach the character with a fresh perspective, because what is in the book doesn't really resonate with the character in the script. The writers have really written it independently," she says. To prepare, she spent time speaking to director Motwane about how they perceive the character, and how they should put their ideas together. "I also sat with the writers, and there was someone to help with the research. She gave me background information on how other RAW agents are trained, how they appear physically, how their body language is, how and why they behave the way they do, how their lives are in general," she says. But she doesn't have any grand 'process'. "You just need to do your homework and focus, know what your dialogues are and how the scene will play out," she says.

This research gave her insight into an agent's life. "RAW agents have to be so discrete that nobody should even notice that they've come and gone," she says, adding that most people's impressions of what these agents do is far from reality. "They know how to use every single gun, but they are not allowed to be armed. They could be any ordinary person. Sometimes, they also change how they look. In their private lives and on the field, they're very different people. How they carry themselves differs greatly based on the situation," she explains. The actress is clearly fascinated by their profession but warns that it is far from a happy one, because it can involve isolation. "It seems to be a life of isolation, you get prepared for isolation because you could get caught."

She laments the fact that their work goes largely uncredited, because they're always 'behind the scenes'. "When a police officer dies in a mission, he gets a funeral and salute, but when a RAW agent dies, they don't even tell you. There is a reason behind that: Their work is so secretive," she explains. As a result of the high-risk nature of this job, women were, for many years, denied opportunities to be agents on the field. "For a long time, women were not sent for fieldwork, because of the danger of being captured. Now there are more women taking part in field work — and Anjali is one such woman."

Apte speaks about the power that these agents have, because of the intel they have access to. While local authorities may analyse an issue keeping in mind only local factors and entities, RAW agents like Anjali can draw connections to events happening across the world. "They are exposed to details that are strange, deep, and quite frankly, ugly," she says. This is portrayed in the show, when she keeps trying to link Ganesh Gaitonde's suicide to larger factors than gang wars.

Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh and Radhika Apte as Anjali Mathur

Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh and Radhika Apte as Anjali Mathur

Undoubtedly, the training such agents undergo and the things they experience mould who they are as people. To add to this, Anjali also has a past; her father was an agent too, and the viewer gets a sense that she is trying to prove herself as his daughter. This is the reason why she decides to go beyond her desk job, chasing after leads. Apte says the lingering anger in her character serves as a warning to people, about how they should not look down upon her. "She has a past which makes her who she is, she's a little obnoxious and rude actually. She's very no-nonsense, she just doesn't have the time. She doesn't entertain people who ask stupid questions," she says. In the same breath, Apte asserts that her character is not a bad person. "I like her rudeness, if you get to know her, that trait is quite endearing. She's capable of taking other people's rudeness. She's also extremely passionate about her work." Shades of this side of the character are evident when she considers visiting Sartaj Singh's house with a bottle of whisky, as a mark of friendship or perhaps support. Apte says that Anjali is intuitive too; the viewer sees this in action when she gets Sartaj to probe Jojo Masceranhas' death and connects the dots to find out who Malcom Murad is.

Apte says that the change in medium from films to TV has not prompted her to change her approach, but that it has given her a marked increase in freedom, in terms of what she can do as an actor. "When I was doing Phobia, I had to be scared throughout. I couldn't say words like 'sh*t' and 'f**k', so I wondered about how I could respond when I was scared! It's not just about expletives, it's about feeling and being able to express. The one difference I have noticed is that when I acting in Sacred Games, I feel completely free. I don't feel restricted in any way. I can improvise, I can say anything that comes to my mind, I don't have to fit my thoughts into any structure."

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Read part one of this series: Nawazuddin Siddiqui on playing a gangster in Sacred Games and avoiding Bollywood's 'hero' mould

Read part two of this series: Anurag Kashyap on working with Netflix and his 'street cred' as a director of dark, intense films

Read part three of this series: Saif Ali Khan on playing a troubled cop, and why the series could work globally

Read part four of this series: Vikramaditya Motwane on adapting Vikram Chandra's book, collaborating with Netflix

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 12:31:13 IST