What is your review of Sacred Games by Netflix?

By Sunil Kumar

Had read the sprawling world building novel by Vikram Chandra nearly a year back; so was waiting with bated breath for the TV adaptation. Also met the author at a literary event; and asked him about the same.

Chandra said that Netflix is an incredibly closeted organization and despite him being the author; he had no idea when it would be on air. To tell you the truth; I was wondering how a soft-spoken individual like him had conjured up this macabre story. But; as writers we conjure up different worlds.

Now having watched all the 8 episodes; my verdict is half liked it and half hated the whole thing. Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane have conformed to the Netflix staple of sex, violence and cliffhangers but sincerely crassness and too much sex spoil the broth somewhat.

In the novel; the RAW agent Anjali Mathur came across as iron-willed, perceptive and intelligent; the Netflix version messes up the whole thing. Clearly the aim is to please even the lowest common denominator and people who generally watch the TV shows; and do not bother reading the books behind them.

Radhika Apte was unbelievably crass as the agent and spoke in a tone and language that clearly indicated she was speaking in Mumbai slang; a patois that does not remotely resemble how a person from Delhi might speak. I know she’s the current darling of the so-called “art” set; but she doesn’t hold a candle to say great actresses like Smita Patil.

Once you get into reading the novel(it is a mega-book nearly a 1000 pages long); despite being tedious it tends to grow on you and is more mysterious than this adaptation. Nawazuddin; although menacing and doing a good job does not sound like a Maharashtrian gangster. There are far too many cuss words(gaalis) in the TV version; which are jarring as they are used without context. Kukoo has been made into something to please the nascent Indian LGBT community.

More conflicts and subtext could be derived from the novel. Parulkar and Majid are more friendly to Inspector Sartaj Singh in the novel; and he even goes to have dinner or visit both their houses. Not too much mention of his wife Megha. The Netflix version reduced the narrative to one-dimensional rather than the complex version in the novel.

Luke Kenny is definitely worth watching as a villain- which was not the case in the novel. The directors have clearly had fun creating a mysterious nemesis who recites stories on Habil and Qabil; or Abel and Cain; and tries to sell doomsday scenarios. Gaitonde and Isa definitely have some real world parallels in Chota Rajan and Dawood. And we know that Indian politicians; the police are remarkably corrupt dystopias.

I’ve recently come to know that a Congress supporter has some angst about remarks made on Rajiv Gandhi in this series; which were reasonably mild compared to the daily diatribe and anti-Hindu trolling that is a badge of honour for recent “creative” filmmakers who get to do this even in this series.

Still; the directors can’t be faulted completely. They have had to deal with a complex novel like “Sacred Games” and cinematic versions do need to play around with a creative license. I just think it could have been done a little better.

Photo of me and Vikram Chandra who wrote “Sacred Games”; the novel.


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