Sacred Games 2 Web Series Review: Getting the pulse and patter of Bombay right
Saif Ali Khan handholds Sartaj with solid commitment and heart, trying to sink his teeth into his confusion, ache and longing for a better time
U/A: Crime, Drama
Director: Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kalki Koechlin, Pankaj Tripathi, Ranvir Shorey, Luke Kenny
In his book - Sacred Games - the Bible from which India's first Netflix original descends, writer Vikram Chandra eloquently puts the quintessential pre-requisite of surviving Mumbai - "If you want to live in the city, you have to think ahead three turns, and look behind a lie to see the truth and then behind that truth to see the lie." The second season can be summed up in this one line. Before anything else the show is a classic Bombay ballad that entails all the mayhem and mirages that make up the city.
The first season ended on a delicious cliffhanger - cop Sartaj Singh uncovers a nuclear attack ploy as gangster Ganesh Gaitonde is sneaked out of prison for a larger cause.
Here, Gaitonde lands up under the thumb of a RAW agent in Mombasa (Kenya) as Sartaj sifts through every nook and corner of the city to quell the impending threat looming large over them. We are introduced to a host of new characters starting with Guruji, played to perfection by Pankaj Tripathi - a whimsical Godman running the reins of Gaitonde's life and controlling Sartaj's present from beyond the realm of time. There's the terrific Amruta Subash turning up as a badass RAW agent, in crisp cotton sarees reducing the lethal Gaitonde to a squirming mouse. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Gaitonde skilfully, a gangster desperate for the world to remember him with reverence. There is not a sprinkle of his memorable fearsome aura but instead we find him stripped - vulnerable and helpless. Meanwhile, Saif Ali Khan handholds Sartaj with solid commitment and heart, trying to sink his teeth into his confusion, ache and longing for a better time.
Watch the trailer of Saif Ali Khan-starrer Sacred Games 2 here:
This time around - the women are impressive - Surveen Chawla's Jojo shines as Kalki's Batya Abelman, an aberration of Maa Sheela do some serious heavy-lifting.
Sartaj and his colleague Majid (Aamir Bashir - in super shape here) untangle leads from the underworld, which travel through their department's top bosses, heavy weight politicos, Bollywood divas, Islamist extremist outfits eventually making its way to a spiritual leader running an Osho-like Ashram.
Directors Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan, under the able guidance of show runner Vikramaditya Motwane, stay within their lines - Anurag taking over the sinister life of Gaitonde as Neeraj manoeuvres how Sartaj must solve every riddle in the book to save his beloved Bombay.
But there are quite a few blindspots in both stories - Gaitonde's meteoric rise in Mombasa doesn't add much to the plot and while there is real heart in his love for Jojo (mostly because of the actors), there is little gratification from its half-baked execution. Down and out after Katekar's death, on the brink of a divorce, Sartaj gets sucked into the cult his father abided by.
Writing team Varun Grover, Dhruv Narang, Nihit Bhave and Pooja Tolani have put together promising ideas - the most prominent one being that terrorism is more of an ideological phenomena than religious. The makers aim for more than a chase game between a cop and a bomb, finding the answer to the season's lingering existential question - Is the world worth saving? It's scary to admit that after watching a scene where a young boy is lynched to death, you'd come pretty close to saying 'Nah!' Debating fundamentalism from both sides, they attempt to expose blind faith and how often it's used to indoctrinate venom in emotionally hapless people looking for support. So when a slain cop's teenage son hoots to see a young man die or we realise that a spiritual guru masterminds an attack using a religious group's ideologies you, Guruji's words ring true - 'Religion is business.' One look around us and it dawns on us how horrifyingly relevant the words are.
Despite so much going for it, the pace of the show wears it down. It must have been one hell of a job for Motwane and his editor Aarti Bajaj to coherently put together these elaborate parallel narratives that must frequently intersect, mirror each other whilst being drastically different in terms of tonality. Be patient with the vastness of this tapestry and you'll have a lot to savour. The package left me a little underwhelmed. It was overstuffed and over ambitious, designing way more than they can deliver on. I'd call them mad for taking on so much but then again this is the kind of madness Chandra writes about - the one you can feel in your bones.
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