#Throwback 2018: Thank You, Sacred Games, for Ganesh Gaitonde, Katekar, and the Gang of Gopalmath

Pop Culture

#Throwback 2018: Thank You, Sacred Games, for Ganesh Gaitonde, Katekar, and the Gang of Gopalmath

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

B

ook adaptations are a gamble. It’s as if they exist to polarise the audience into declaring that “the book was better” minutes into the film. The odds are, after all, stacked completely against them. To compress an average 700-page book, that emphasises world-building, has intermingling backstories and unending sub-plots into a two-hour film or a five-hour show, is a challenge many screenwriters are not equal to. Look at the Harry Potter franchise for instance.

This year, a doughty Indian Netflix Original took a moonshot, and attempted to capture a beast of a critically acclaimed book in a web series… and didn’t falter. The first season of Sacred Games (the second season has already been greenlit) that came out earlier this year managed to remind audiences about the beauty of book adaptations.

It’s been a year when the possibilities of the digital space exploded. Netflix took the lead with four Indian series – Sacred Games, Ghoul, Little Things, and Selection Day. And Amazon followed with Breathe and  Mirzapur. There was also the mockumentary, Better Life Foundation, that returned with an impeccable second season.

Yet Sacred Games, helmed by directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, stands out by a wide margin for recreating a spellbinding world that had audiences invested. Ask any bibliophile and they’ll tell you the joy of visualising the world of their favourite books and the faces of the fictional characters – translating that to the screen is an exercise designed to falter. For people who hadn’t yet read the novel, it introduced them to an universe where Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde co-exist. It pulled this off on a global scale that was not inferior to Narcos, The Crown, or even The Break.

It’s been a year when the possibilities of the digital space exploded.

Sacred Games single-handedly ended the drought of smartly written and performed shows of Indian origin on the internet. It mastered the art of the cliffhanger, gave us indelible characters like Katekar, Bunty, Guruji, and Kukoo and didn’t compromise on the filmmaking. It was that unicorn that treated the small screen with the same level of ambition and respect usually reserved for the silver one. And what worked in its favour is that Sacred Games refused to just rely completely on its novel. Instead, it used the book as a stepping stone into a world that had the space to accommodate newer characters and plot twists.

Just like the explosive Ghoul, Sacred Games didn’t just get India right, but also concerned itself with sharp commentary on the state of India’s affairs. It refused to bow down to the diktats of censorship or the templates of safe storytelling. Instead, it packed itself with mythological references that feel wholly inventive – as international as they are Indian. And for that, 2018 will be remembered as the year of Sacred Games.

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