“Roll shot, action!” Vikramaditya Motwane signals toward the over-enthusiastic 50-person crew of Netflix’s much-talked-about crime-drama series, Sacred Games, adapted from best-selling author Vikram Chandra’s gripping 2006 thriller. It was a precursor to a seriously invigorating experience – of watching some of the most incredibly talented people in present-day Bollywood in action on the sets of what is likely to be an amazing series.
The 8-episode series doesn’t only mark its place as the first original on Netflix to be made in India, but also boasts of an ensemble star cast - Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte and Nawazuddin Siddiqui to name a few. Skilfully woven together by the brilliant Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, the captivating tale follows events that unfold after the death of Mumbai gangster Ganesh Gaitonde, played by Siddiqui. But what’s the life of a gangster without a determined cop hunting him down, right? That’s where Saif Ali Khan’s Sartaj comes in. Sartaj Singh, as per the book, is everything a quintessential cop shouldn’t be. “Troubled, sceptical, overtly-honest,” Saif says, describing his character when we chat with him in between shots. Saif looks every inch the serious Sikh cop – head wrapped in a neatly tied bun, buff in a single-coloured t-shirt, there’s no one else I could imagine playing the role. The plot revolves around these two men, whose lives strangely intersect all throughout the script, until Gaitonde’s darkness finally catches up with him, costing him his life. Post his death as Sartaj investigates the depths of Gaitonde’s life, he’s met with voices from the mafia don’s past, taking him through the reasons of his brutal existence. Deep stuff indeed but it will be interesting to see how the makers do justice to the intense plot in 8 episodes.
The sets we are at – a rundown mill in Byculla (South Mumbai) has the typical ‘90s vibe – old police vans parked in a corner, the worn out interiors, the descript and morbid ambiance essential to a cop and criminal drama. One doesn’t know what the final product will look like but the set design was as authentic as it could get. Shrieks from the crew members filled the dust-filled air; after all, they would do anything but cause delay and upset Vikram who intensely waits for the DoP to call the shot. The scene being filmed is with Sartaj Singh who is in the company of a head-strong RAW agent, played by Radhika Apte. They storm into the scene in police vans with sirens blaring and reach there to find Gaitonde has escaped. It takes five retakes for Vikram to get it right to his satisfaction. And the Trapped director admits how draining it has been. “Making Sacred Games is extremely liberating for us being filmmakers, where we are presented with an audience who loves to be challenged,” he quips. The director says the most exciting part of translating the text to celluloid has been “representing Gaitonde’s cinematic past and Sartaj’s semi claustrophobic cops’ world in Mumbai.”
The Sacred Games sets
A lesser spoken about, but equally important character is that of Radhika Apte’s. Playing a RAW agent is a first for the actress, and she is up for the challenge. Dressed in a long olive green kurta, with her hair pulled back into a sleek bun, Apte looks every bit the part. “My character has power over everyone. Our impressions of RAW agent are very far from the truth, they’re anything but predictable,” Radhika describes. The energy on the sets – despite the many retakes, breaks and discussions – is electric as the cast and crew go about canning as much as possible within the deadline.
The 8-episode series will be shot by both Vikram and Anurag, with the former helming Sartaj’s narrative and the latter directing Gaitonde’s plot. Intricate at it may sound, they would not want it any other way. “We are partners and we trust each other’s work though we are very different as filmmakers,” says Vikram. “It just adds to the challenge. Imagine, he shoots his bits and I shoot mine, and the excitement of putting it all together so see what we’ve created. It’s all a big surprise.” Our conversation with the stars and the director is intermittent as they go back and forth for their shots, it’s a good five hours into the shoot but the team shows no signs of tiring as they set up yet another scene. (If this is the effort that goes into making a TV series, imagine those full-fledged big budget shot-in-many-locales films!). But perhaps that’s the beauty of the medium. Soon it was time for us to pack up but the shoot was still on!
Recently, the trailer was released online and it has already evoked huge curiosity:
The passion and hard work that I witnessed on sets that day is evident on screen. The countdown to July 6 (when it will start airing) has begun, and Netflix junkies surely have a treat in store.