WORLDLY WEDNESDAY: "SACRED GAMES" ON NETFLIX
Typically, I avoid re-reviewing shows that I've already discussed in this space, even when they return with new seasons. There's just SO MUCH content out there to stream, with more shows arriving every day, I strive to constantly turn your attention to something new and in need of more eyeballs. I'm breaking my own rule for Season 2 of "Sacred Games," because I genuinely think that it's one of the best streaming shows of the present moment, and I rarely see it mentioned or discussed. Don't let the subtitles turn you away; this is some fast-paced, smart, exciting and tightly-produced TV.
The very first Netflix original series from India, "Sacred Games" combines sweeping historical crime epic with a race-against-the-clock police thriller, by following two narratives in parallel. In the present, struggling Mumbai cop Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) receives a dire warning of a looming, deadly but vague threat to the city, and pursues an ever-evolving and at-times wildly dangerous mission to thwart its shadowy organizers. In flashback, the brilliant, psychopathic gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) pursues a ruthless rise to power from Mumbai's slums to the very apex of its underworld.
The series is based on a 2006 novel by Vikram Chandra, and it has the feel of reading a weighty tome, using its primary story of shifting alliances and shocking betrayals to reflect on the past 30 years of Mumbai history and the religious tensions constantly threatening to plunge the city into violence. The fact that it manages to balance all this along with insights into Sartaj's personal, emotional journey is a testament to the strength of the adaptation and Neeraj Ghaywan's assured, confident direction (in Season 2's episodes, anyway).
OK, so that's all you need to read if you've never seen "Sacred Games." Watch this show. Because Season 2 picks up RIGHT where Season 1 left off, and it's a complex, twisty drama with lots going on, I'm also going to include a quick Season 1 catch-up for anyone looking to jump right into the new episodes. It's just below "The Basics."
Title: "Sacred Games"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Episodes: 16 (2 seasons)
Running time: 43-58 minutes each
Genre: Crime thriller
In Hindi and Marathi with English subtitles
SEASON 1 CATCH-UP
When we first meet Mumbai cop Sartaj Singh, he's on the outs with his fellow officers, after refusing to lie about a crime scene to protect a colleague. Also, his wife has left him. He receives a call from notorious Mumbai gangster Ganesh Gaitonde, telling him about some sort of cataclysmic event that will happen in 25 days. Gaitonde says only a local official, the Home Minister Trivedi, will survive. Sartaj manages to track Gaitonde down to some kind of nuclear bunker, but Gaitonde then shoots himself. He has also killed a woman we know very little about, other than the fact that she has procured him prostitutes in the past. She's named Jojo Mascarenas. From then on, we divide our time between flashbacks showing Gaitonde's rise to power in the Mumbai underworld -- beginning in his childhood -- and Sartaj's attempts in the present to prevent the looming disaster.
Beginning with the murder of his own mother, Gaitonde cuts a swath of violence through Mumbai, amassing more power and influence at every turn. We meet his right-hand man, Bunty, who's wheelchair-bound in the present, and his arch-rival, Suleiman Isa. Much of the season will concern essentially a turf war between Gaitonde and Isa, which results in Bunty's injury, the murder of Gaitonde's wife, and eventually Isa skipping town and Gaitonde's imprisonment. While being held in solitary, he meets a kind jailer who shows him compassion; it turns out, this is Sartaj's father, and the connection that will ultimately bring the two men together.
On Sartaj's side, he works along with a federal agent -- Anjali Mathur -- to investigate Trivedi and his connection to the plot. Ultimately, during the course of the investigation, Anjali is murdered by a mysterious enforcer known as Malcolm. Sartaj as well is captured by Malcolm, who chops off his thumb and nearly kills him. But an injured Sartaj gets away and is eventually recovered by his fellow officers. While watching a religious broadcast featuring a guru named Guruji, Sartaj sees a familiar pattern (or mandala) that he recognizes from Gaitonde's bunker. Returning there, he finds a hidden room, where an unconscious Trivedi has been tied up. And that's where Season 1 concludes, with 12 days remaining until the impending disaster.