Streaming on Netflix
Metadata: TV-MA | 2018 | 1 Season, 8 episodes
Genre: Crime, International Drama
Why I watched: A friend of mine that has his finger on the pulse of all things Hollywood and Bollywood tweeted when Sacred Games was picked up for a second season. This show had been entirely off my radar, but when I started reading reviews I was stunned by the near unanimous vote of approval the its first season received. Let me just say: It lives up to the hype!
You might also like: We suggested that you watch The Wire a few months ago, so let me just echo that recommendation here. Parallel plots that involve crime lords and police officers? Swap Baltimore for Mumbai, and the shows look pretty similar! It's also hard not to think of Narcos, Netlix's other wildly popular international crime series. As the New York Times put it, "A gangster saga with a history lesson is apparently the best algorithm for cross-cultural success."
Maybe it's because my mom let me watch Law and Order: SVU when I was growing up (Thanks, Mom!), but I get very emotionally invested in a crime drama. Sacred Games is no exception. Set in Mumbia, the series follows Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) as he and intelligence officer Anjali (Radhika Apte) works to uncover a plot to destroy the city deployed by crime lord Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Based on Vikram Chandra's 1000-page book of the same name, Sacred Games is intricate and complicated, only revealing as much as we need to know before unsettling our expectations. This is really good television, people.
While definitely part of the hard-boiled detective tradition, the series feels anything but generic. As Netflix's first Indian series—filmed for an Indian audience, with established Indian actors, by Indian writers, directors, and producers—Sacred Games packs a punch. The story begins when Singh is contacted by an anonymous caller, who sits in a bunker like a computer hacker. The caller turns out to be Gaitonde, a notorious Mumbai gang leader who's been missing for years and presumed dead. He baits Singh with the information that he knew his father, another police officer, and that a deadly but unspecified event will strike Mumbai in 25 days.
From there, the series cuts back and forth between two stories: Singh's and Anjali's present-day attempts to solve the mystery and flashbacks of Gaitonde's takeover, starting in the 1980s. Gritty fictional footage overlaps archival video as Gaitonde weaves an epic narrative (with hints of magical realism) of India's social and political history, and a critique of the country's religious divides, caste system, and corruption. (The series' portrayal of India, by the way, led to libel charges against Netflix.)
Stylistically, the series feels different than the typical American fair. The camera you'll realize avoids the deep focus we're used to, instead blurring at the edges, forcing us to focus on a specific part of the frame. But this is intentional, letting us know that everything we're seeing should be questioned based on who's point of view we're in. Another quick note: Sacred Games can be watched in its original Hindi, with or without subtitles, or with English, Spanish, or Portuguese dubbing. (I've been switching back and forth between subtitles and dubbing, and I'm not sure which I prefer.)
Pay attention to everything as you watch each episode or you'll miss small threads that become significant later on. If you're like me, though, and easily distracted, the good news is that you'll have plenty of time to rewatch if need be. Netflix just announced they were going to begin filming Season 2!