Photo Credit: Tejinder Singh Khamkh/Netflix
Upon its debut last year, Sacred Games was given a ringing endorsement from most Indian viewers, who believed they had finally gotten a local original series that attempted to follow in the footsteps of prestige TV era that has brought about a new age of golden television in the US. (It had its faults for sure, which we have previously documented.) Though its global success remains debatable since the Netflix ratings department doesn't have an open-door policy, Sacred Games is clearly a phenomenon in India. In turn, that means there's greater pressure on the cast and crew to deliver on the show's return, with Sacred Games season 2 out midnight on Thursday.
In the first three episodes — that's what Netflix gave critics access to — of Sacred Games 2, it's clear that pacing at least is not an issue. That's partly helped by the fact that there's even fewer days to go for Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) to thwart the nuclear attack on the horizon. (Four days pass in the opening three episodes.) The Netflix series moves swiftly from one scene to the other, but it also knows when to take a breather and linger a little. That's when interactions between characters come into play, and there are some delightful ones in season 2, courtesy of new and returning characters. And it also largely eases the shift between the flashbacks and present-day by weaving in a common thread.
Narratively, the show is split. On one hand, it is willing to make room to explore Sartaj's guilt over his friend and colleague Constable Katekar's (Jitendra Joshi) death in the first season, and the impact it has had on the rest of the Katekar family. A part of it touches upon cow vigilantes and Hindu nationalism briefly, updating Vikram Chandra's book and making Sacred Games more relevant for today's times. At the same time, the Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) storyline spins its wheels in the opening episodes. Of course, it's still watchable moment to moment, but it feels like a rehash of his early arc from the first season. It's almost as if the Gaitonde track is stalling so the Sartaj track can catch up.
For what it's worth, there are some joys to be found along the route — in addition to the aforementioned conversations — with Sacred Games going meta early in season 2. There's an elaborate recreation of some memorable season 1 moments, which works on two different levels. It's an obvious tongue-in-cheek stunt, and it also takes on Bollywood's nexus with the Mumbai underworld. Interestingly, this self-referential approach reads differently in the context of season 2 wrapping up the Gaitonde storyline in the process of finishing the book, as the Sacred Games creators have revealed. It comes across as a way to bring his arc full circle, strongly hinting Siddiqui may not have a part to play should there be a third season, which Netflix will no doubt want given the popularity of the show.
Sacred Games 2 begins pretty much where we left off, with Sartaj & Co. start investigating the fallout shelter and its contents: a dead Trivedi (Chittaranjan Tripathi). The nuclear plot links into Hizbuddin, a fictional terror outfit that has ties to one Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey) — repeatedly mentioned but nowhere to be seen in the early going of season 2 — who's allegedly behind everything from the 1993 Bombay bombings to the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, per Inspector Majid Ali Khan (Aamir Bashir). As part of a new investigation team, Sartaj and Majid then set out to find Shahid Khan, while the former digs into Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi), the spiritual guru whom Gaitonde referred to as his “third father”.
That brings into play Guruji's long-time follower Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin), who oversees the Mumbai ashram, and is one of several new female characters on Sacred Games season 2. There's a much bigger role — at least in the first few episodes — for RAW agent Kusum Devi Yadav (Amruta Subhash), a character that has been gender-flipped from the book. Early in season 2, Gaitonde is approach by Trivedi and Yadav to work for them in Mombasa, Kenya. Naturally, he rebuffs the offer as there's only one thing on his mind: return home and take revenge on Suleiman Isa (Saurabh Sachdeva), who nearly got him killed in prison, with Gaitonde barely escaping with his life.
But things have drastically changed. In Bombay, police have cracked down on gangs in the wake of the 1992-93 riots, while Isa has climbed the ladder after shifting base to Dubai. (The parallels to Dawood Ibrahim, which the character is based on, naturally continue.) Gaitonde is both adrift and powerless, and with no cards left to play, he accepts Yadav's offer to essentially become a government pawn. Working for her means listening and compromises though, which eventually breaks Gaitonde's spirit. No wonder then that a guy who doesn't believe in God turns to a guru — with prodding from Trivedi — lacking the answers and control he desperately seeks.
In building to Guruji's introduction from all sides, Sacred Games 2 also cheekily foreshadows the potentially literal — but for now, metaphorical — nuclear cloud cast over everyone by giving Tripathi lines such as “Time is radioactive.” With Tripathi having a bigger presence in the second season, the writers — head writer Varun Grover and his new writing team of Dhruv Narang (Gormint), Nihit Bhave (Hey Prabhu!), and Pooja Tolani — can expand on the Hindu mythological angles of the story. Sacred Games 2 also pushes on the other-worldliness by incorporating multiple dream sequences in the first three episodes, which allows the characters' deepest fears and concerns to rise to the surface.
That helps avoid exposition, though it's not always as effective elsewhere. Thankfully, the dynamic between the actors — and the profanity-laden repartee between characters — makes for easy viewing. That's especially true of the conversations between Gaitonde and Yadav, and Gaitonde and Jojo Mascarenhas (Surveen Chawla), the “talent manager” madam who was killed off in the opening moments of season 1 but has a much bigger presence on season 2. Both women are unafraid of Gaitonde, which contributes heavily to the dynamic. And it's made more intriguing by the hints at the darkness in their respective worlds, be it demons in the past, or a terrible fate around the corner.
Outside that, much of the humour in Sacred Games season 2 otherwise rests on Gaitonde's (omniscient) narration, as was the case in season 1. There's a rare look at the other side of the screen in season 2, which gives us a glimpse at how Gaitonde's men behave and react to the boss' shenanigans when he isn't around. And there's an additional bit of comedy that arises out of the naivety of a baby-faced drugs dealer who Gaitonde turns into his stooge.
On the filmmaking side of things, the most eye-catching bit in the early going is a showy one-minute long take that's part of a chase sequence and involves going up a four-storey building. But at the same time, Sacred Games 2 also makes some factual, logical, and continuity errors. While most of these are small and forgivable — jumping across years incorrectly, senselessly killing off minor characters, and furniture movement — the biggest and stupidest of the lot is Sartaj himself. In interviews, Khan revealed that he lost weight to reprise his role in season 2, which makes absolutely no sense from a narrative standpoint. The show picks up right where we left off, so when did Sartaj lose all this weight?
That won't be much of an issue if the season is engaging and rewarding on the whole, but that's not something we can say for sure considering Netflix has only given us access to less than half of it. (There are eight episodes in total.) It's like judging a two-and-a-half-hour movie on its first hour. Netflix unwilling to let critics view the full season is curious and feels reminiscent of Leila, whose first and second halves of the season were polar opposites. It's unlikely Sacred Games 2 will share that fate but it's impossible to say how well it will pay off the storylines set in motion, including thorny ones such as those involving the Katekar family. Left with those ifs and buts, we will be taking a closer look when all episodes are available.
Sacred Games 2 is out August 15 at 12am IST on Netflix in India.