Noir is not just about the dexterous use of light and dark. It also symbolises chaos, morally ambiguous characters and a cynical take on reality. Anurag Kashyap and Vikram Motwane’s Sacred Games, an adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s 2006 thriller novel of the same name, successfully achieves all the three and much more. It is as near a faithful adaptation of the book in its tone and theme as can be expected from an Indian show, as Indian TV or web shows have yet to come of age when it comes to storytelling.
The plot shows two timelines centred in Mumbai or Bombay as it was known and revolves around its two main leads played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Saif Ali Khan. Each story introduces characters, many of whom overlap the two timelines and their motivations as they find themselves in predicaments where each choice is equally ugly and which in turn generates a vicious cycle of revenge, counter revenge and bloodshed. But this is not a show about gangsters and the cat and mouse game between them and the law enforcement agencies. The overreaching theme of the show is religion and its use by its self-proclaimed guardians who attempt to wreak havoc by manipulating the followers as pawns in a larger, darker game. We see flashes of actual politico-religious developments of the ‘80s and ‘90s India throughout the show.
The acting in general is praiseworthy although some of the female characters are poorly written or lack depth. Varun Grover and his team are otherwise pretty spot-on in getting the essence of the book right. What really catches the eye is the pacing and the build-up of scenes as the intensity inches in incremental steps. This is unlike any Indian show we have seen and obvious comparisons with Narcos are being made in social media circles. The unsung hero of the show is the music composer Alokananda Dasgupta who steals every scene with a precise hair-raising score and in some cases old Bollywood music that gels perfectly with the scene. The synchronous amalgamation of the scene and the background score is one of the bedrocks of any successful film or TV series.
Hopefully this is the start of something new in the Indian web/TV show landscape and we make a hard turn away from those excruciatingly painful soap operas, which have dominated for so long. This show might also be a game changer for big movie stars who will probably find more fruitful avenues on the web, thanks to the likes of Netflix, than the traditional multiplex concept.