India – the most mystical land on God’s earth. Although some say that’s China. Others Wales, because of the dragons and so on. But those people are wrong, India is easily the best.
This is something Netflix have cottoned on to by commissioning their first original Indian series: Sacred Games. Why wouldn’t they have done? There’s about a billion people living over there (I’m not sure if that’s true but there’s certainly a lot of them) and – as far as I know – the only entertainment they’re given is those Bollywood movies where everyone can’t stop singing and dancing or killing each other. They’re actually very compelling but – like eating Angel Delight every day for breakfast, lunch and tea – what starts as a treat can quickly become tedious.
Sacred Games is different: a vast and lavish adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s 2006 crime novel in which there are no song-and-dance routines whatsoever. This is an epic tale of cops, gangsters, sex, violence and politics. All the best ingredients of any great drama.
Sartaj Singh is a troubled police officer in Mumbai who is bullied and ridiculed by his corrupt superiors. The poor bastard lives off sleeping pills and pain killers and just can’t seem to catch a break. Until one day he receives a phone call from the notorious crime lord Ganesh Gaitonde, who has been missing for 16 years. He tells Singh that he has 25 days in which to save Mumbai. Then he blows his own brains out before explaining any further.
Personally, if I’d received a call that melodramatic from a man who instantly topped himself I’d write the whole thing off as the ramblings of a suicidal madman and get on with my filing. But Singh takes the warning seriously and begins an investigation that takes him deep into Mumbai’s deepest and darkest secrets.
Mumbai is the star of Sacred Games: from the poverty-stricken gutters to the opulent corridors of power, it is captured in all its ugly-beautiful glory
The series follows twin narratives: one that follows Singh’s present-day race to save the city and another that flashes back to Gaitonde’s bloody and audacious rise and fall through the underworld. The scale is immense, with a sprawling array of brilliant and unique characters: from the corrupt cops, to the devious politicians, violent restauranteurs, coke-snorting movie stars and a particularly good turn by a wheelchair-bound gang-boss.
Yes, it might have been aimed primarily at a huge Indian audience but this is something that will appeal to Western viewers just as well. Not only is the writing sharp, the acting exceptional and the action relentless, the look and feel is totally captivating. Mumbai is the star of Sacred Games: from the poverty-stricken gutters to the opulent corridors of power, it is captured in all its ugly-beautiful glory. You can almost smell the place. It’s almost enough to make me actually go there. But I won’t because then it would lose all its mystery.
Sacred Games is on Netflix now