Sacred Games season 2 review: Netflix's haphazard thriller takes on terrifying socio-political relevance
There can be no bigger crime than reducing Netflix's Sacred Games to a gangster drama. Sure, it has all the trappings, but season 2 is so much more.
castSaif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Pankaj Tripathi, Amruta Subhash, Elnaaz Nourozi, Surveen Chawla
directorNeeraj Ghaywan, Anurag Kashyap
languageHindi, English, Marathi, Punjabi
Disclaimer: Only 3 episodes of the 8 part season 2 were made available by Netflix for reviewing purposes.
There can be no bigger crime than reducing Netflix's Sacred Games, based on Vikram Chandra's 1000 page book, to a gangster drama (it is not Indian Narcos). Sure, it has all the trappings, but Sacred Games season 2 is so much more.
Its social, thematic and political relevance smacks you in the face even harder than the ground-breaking first season, adding notches of psychological trauma (caused by the multiple deaths in season 1), communal upheaval and repercussions of war, with a sprinkling of humour, new characters to root for and just the right amount of fun your moral conscience will allow. Before you can laugh at a dialogue or marvel the visual brilliance of a scene, the show reels you back in to looming threat of nuclear terrorism: a fictional premise of the show, but also, a terrifying mirror?
11 episodes in, Sacred Games is more relevant to global socio-cultural politics than even Leila, which found popularity for holding a mirror to the Indian society of today. From being a cat-and-mouse chase between Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde (the two main characters of the first season) and the definitive story of the growth of Mumbai, the show has now elevated to a scary thriller that reminds you how strangely close to home fiction can be.
Here's a quick lowdown on what happens in the first three episodes of season 2.
After escaping prison, Gaitonde is being held captive somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On a boat, he meets Trivedi and RAW agent Kusum Devi Yadav (the brilliantly stoic Amruta Subhash) who ask him to move his operations to Kenya, where they can be partners on various illegal projects.
In the mid-90s, he starts his empire in Mombasa, smuggling drugs and weapons. He strikes up a love-hate relationship with Yadav, who he calls Tai, and a co-dependent relationship with Jojo, who he speaks to over the phone in Mumbai. He even goes on to make a film on his life, after struggling with insecurities of being irrelevant. There, he gives Zoya Mirza/Jameela (Elnaaz Nourozi) her first break, ushering her into the world of Bollywood.
Meanwhile, Sartaj is rewarded for his near-fatal discoveries from the first season by the higher ups in the police force, and is asked to lead the case. Majid and Parulkar are not happy about it, but it brings in some much-needed confidence for Sartaj. He follows many leads, which brings him face-to-face with several revelations — including a Mumbai-based terrorist organisation making maps of India without Kashmir (!), Guruji's (Pankaj Tripathi) ashram, where is introduced to a mysteriously druggy red-coloured tea (this tea is at the centre of Guruji's illegal operations, for which he uses Gaitonde's help in the 90s) and clues about the impending nuclear blast.
Apart from Guruji (suspiciously Osho-like but creepier) and KD Yadav, we are introduced to two new characters of prominence: Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin) and Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey). Sartaj meets Batya in the ashram, where he pretends to be a divorcee looking for peace. She heads operations since Guruji is dead in the current timeline. Shahid Khan has no scenes in the first 3 episodes, but he is alluded to often, as the one to 'blow up India'. Gaitonde is typically dismissive of him, "India uske baap ka hai kya?" he tells KD Yadav; but as we dive deeper into the series, it becomes clear that Khan is the face of modern terrorism in the series.
The next 4 episodes will bring us closer to how Gaitonde and Guruji form a relationship, how he was ultimately betrayed by his 'teesra baap', what role Shahid Khan and Batya have to play in this mess, and whether Sartaj will be able to stop the nuclear blast. (Phew, that's a lot.)
Since this is a Netflix show, each episode ends with a cliffhanger, almost to a point of being predictable. The violence and expletives are omnipresent; it has almost become a grammar, a tadka of the series. You're curious enough to want to put the jigsaw pieces of the plot together, and invested enough to have favourites, but Sacred Games season 2 teases you; it wants you dive deeper and show you that no character is really "good" or "bad" in the face of danger. Except Sartaj. We're all rooting for Sartaj, really.
The women of the second season take the cake — from the badass Amruta Subhash to the sassy Elnaaz Norouzi. Both characters appear in both timelines, and flit effortlessly between the two, bringing in necessary shifts in body language and emotion. Special mention to Surveen Chawla's Jojo, who plays a suicidal character with the much-needed complexity. These characters are not written keeping in mind their gender, and that's a big win.
Neeraj Ghaywan brings a unique visual language to the track involving Sartaj, with multiple tracking shots and long takes that build up to shocking conclusions. Kashyap handles Gaitonde's track with snazzy cuts and oomph, making the tone lighter than the first season. There's nothing new to say about Nawazuddin Siddiqui's performance as Gaitonde: neither his demeanour, nor his foul language is unique anymore. It genuinely seems like he could play this character in his sleep. I can see this season building up to more heroic scenes involving Sartaj, who Saif plays with equal parts vulnerability and charming confidence.
Watch out for the third episode, easily the best-written (by Pooja Tolani) including elements of absurdism and black humour that the series has never toyed with before. It makes you hope for more comedic relief, and also wonder if a hugely mounted show of this nature can afford to take itself lightly. After all, when was the last time you heard someone use the words "sacred" and "humour" in the same breath?
Watch the trailer here:
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