Time is running out, D-day nears, predictions are made, promises are broken, arbitrary connections are made, and on the whole, the plot thickens. The much-awaited Sacred Games Season 2 is finally upon us and it is fair to state that the excitement has been upped. Netflix has reportedly gone all out with this season and has pumped in `100 crore and it is apparent. Much like a newer version of an open-world video game, the backdrop of season 2 is bigger and so, is the scheme of the series itself.
You could say it makes Sacred Games a sort of gamechanger because, unlike in season one, where it restricted itself to predominantly being about the lives of inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) and Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the latest season is about larger problems — bigger than all of the characters. The big stakes are its boon, and unfortunately, to a certain extent, its bane too.
The title of each episode from season 1 was confined to Hindu mythology — drawn from the Vedas to Mahabharatha. Here, even this is grander. One of the episodes is titled Siduri, a character from the Mesopotamian poem, Epic of Gilgamesh. Another example is Azrael, the angel of death from Islam and Jewish traditions. Keeping the current socio-political unrest and the religion-caused uproars, directors Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan have tweaked the canvas appropriately, and taken liberties with Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel.
In the very first episode, Matsya, named after the first avatar of Vishnu, we see an escaped Gaitonde in international waters. And yet, he is a fish out of water, a gangster outside his turf. Parallelly, we are introduced to Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi), busy with his usual sermons, as he talks about how animals including humans evolved from fishes.
The rest of the series, at the grassroots level, is the evolution of its pivotal characters, Gaitonde and Sartaj. Over the course of 12 days, Sartaj ends up making revelations that lead him and his team to the weapon that’s meant to put an end to the city which Gaitonde warns about in the very first episode of season 1 to Sartaj.
It is a race against time and odds as they look to save Mumbai (I got reminded of Dan Brown’s Inferno), and is in contrast to the years that pass in Gaitonde’s life, as the narrative moves back and forth between the past and the present. For a gangster from Gopalmath, it is almost miraculous that Gaitonde, a fallen man, rises back to what he does best.
His short-term ambitions — avenging the death of Kukoo, killing Suleiman Isa and becoming more imposing — are thrown into the back burner, as he is forced to team up with the government. Its repercussions, let down by his ‘two fathers’, lead him to Guruji where he finds his catharsis. The rest of the plot brings us answers to questions such as why the don alerted Sartaj on the impending doom, despite being forgotten by it. Who is Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin)? What are Guruji’s motives?
The flaws of both main characters is magnified in season 2. Sartaj makes fruitless attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife Megha Singh (Anupriya Goenka) and also tries to figure out the connection between his father and Gaitonde. Gaitonde, meanwhile, after the death of Kukoo and Subhadra, finds solace in the spirited Jojo Mascarenas (Surveen Chawla) who is haunted by her past. On the ‘professional’ front, he tries to stay relevant in the minds of Mumbaikars by forcing a director called Ram G Verma to make a film about his adventures. These form some of the series’ lighter moments and makeup for the grimness.
Saif Ali Khan proves his mettle with a performance rooted in subtlety. As a man who has lost a lot, including a thumb, Sartaj’s life spiraling into him becoming a sociopath is portrayed well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui brings a lot of layers to his foul-mouthed gangster character. From being an atheist to surrendering himself to something almost on faith, the transformation of his character is splendid. Pankaj Tripathi is the surprise package of season 2. His calm demeanour as the Guruji who preaches patiently about everything — ranging from sex, life, and even radioactivity — while retaining the inherent charm of a godman, is brilliant. Aarti Bajaj’s seamless cuts show you why she is Kashyap’s
What could have worked better is the pacing, especially in scenes involving Sartaj. The tension that’s built over the episodes don’t really feel organically created, and I wish there was more on how the cops tackle the situation, how the city responds to code red. The thrilling elements too, on occasion, seem to be convenient contrivances. Despite these blemishes, season 2 of Sacred Games takes the first season up and delivers a gripping tale that stays relevant to hard-hitting current realities concerning matters of power, politics and religion.
Sacred Games 2
Director: Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Pankaj Tripathi, Kalki Koechlin