Archita Kashyap - 46 weeks ago
Its theme of paternity determining one’s life is self limiting, making for laboured viewing.
(Saif Ali Khan and Kalki Koechlin in a still from Sacred Games)
Sacred Games season 2 has taken its fair share of criticism since it dropped on Netflix on August 15. A cynical point of view on this is also that it reflects massive interest amongst viewers and the media here in India and abroad. Sacred Games surprised with its first season, weaving suspense, thrill and a sense of foreboding into the lives of its central characters - Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde. In this season, the weakest aspect of story telling is its obsession with the paternity of both these characters and others. There is little or no room for agency here, like one’s paternity determines every action and reaction, making it one’s destiny. This interpretation of the story simply doesn’t hold up.
Season 2 picks up where the first one left off. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde, Mumbai don, is adrift mid-sea, regulated by undetermined forces like RAW and a cult’s representative. Saif Ali Khan as Inspector Sartaj Singh is now part of a Special Investigative Team, along with Majid, to locate the nuclear bomb and find those who have built it. Shahid Khan, an ISI and army man from Pakistan goes rogue and decides to nuke India. At the heart of this Great Game that could end up triggering a nuclear bombs led 3rd World War, is a cult leader, a guru (played to perfection by Pankaj Tripathi) who wants to dictate the flow of time and a renewal for mankind after a nuclear winter. It’s this part, the omniscient hand of the guru and his cult that triggers very obvious flaws in this season’s narrative.
(Pankaj Tripathi in a still from Sacred Games)
The author didn’t find the second season an absolute disappointment. It has its moments, when intricacies of mind over matter, a complex subject to address onscreen for anyone, are presented intriguingly. Actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi and the season’s find, Amruta Subhash deliver on their parts because there’s meat to chew on; but character graphs don’t evolve beyond the efficient. Saif Ali Khan and Kalki Koechlin have little space to go beyond their watertight characters. That actors don’t try to add layers to their characters is again, a reflection of the series’ central theme, paternity determining one’s life and future. This twisted narrative structure is self limiting, making viewing the series a laboured exercise.
Anurag Kashyap has been vocal in his liberal political beliefs. Neeraj Ghaywan, his co-director and Varun Grover, one of the series’ writers, profess similar political beliefs. The second season evidently is an attempt at social commentary of all that’s making news at least on social media in India. There are lynching, age-old tensions between India and Pakistan; communally driven brain washing, and baggage of one’s lineage. In focusing on the role that one’s father or mother played in determining the course of a character’s life, Sacred Games 2 misses a point. Most quasi-religious violence and mob reactionary behaviour has been happening in our country for ages. This has entered public conversation now, but it’s existence is as old as India herself. Therefore, to highlight these issues through a convoluted narrative doesn’t serve any purpose.
(Kalki Koechlin, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi in a still from Sacred Games)
A guru, so powerful and hard wired onto international politics that he can trigger nuclear war, is also unconvincing. Despite what the cult in this series espouses, an India Pakistan nuclear war won’t necessarily be the trip wire to trigger a third world war between super powers. It might also not herald global destruction, as the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction that drove the Cold War, is defunct in present times. Conflicts are now fought on the battle lines of changing immigration rules and movement of labor and on tightening regimes of trade tariff. Besides the timeline of the ‘darkness’ that this cult steadily works upon is questionable. Their activities to spread unrest and terror range from Af-Pak, to conflicts in the Middle East and shooting in the US including Parkland. None of this adds up to a logical flow of events that tally with the story’s timeframe, but perhaps that is deliberate. The makers of this season might be aiming at a symbolic role that cult like belief systems play in determining human behaviour. If that is indeed the aim, it misses by a wide mark.
In throwing back to what one’s father or mother did, its narrative is over burdened with the question of legacy. In one case, where the dead constable Katekar’s son loses his way to religious fundamentalism, a father’s absence works well. But in most of the rest, including a hint that a Mumbai don could have been manipulated for 2 decades to do a cult’s bidding beats logic and reason.
Sacred Games gives us a broad hint about its intent with its title. In the end, religion can be an opiate, one that blinds masses and opens up room for wide manipulation. In this scheme, elements like a nuclear explosion hate fuelled lynching and control of key government figures can fit in as convincing. But when a goon with unmatched sex drive imbibes in philosophical conversation with a power-maddened guru, this track begins to veer towards caricature. If the idea was to reflect how sacred games are played for power, then this season is a long way from cracking this effectively. Losing intrigue and thrill in exchange of ideological arguments never make for good viewing.
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