Looking back at Sacred Games 2: India's first Netflix series is more thoughtful and urgent on return

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Holy Games 2 Pankaj Tripathi Guruji Pankaj Tripathi Guruji Holy Games 2

On its debut last year, Sacred Games was greeted by most Indian viewers who believed they had finally received an original local series that was trying to follow in the footsteps of the prestigious television that ushered in a new era of golden television. (It certainly had its mistakes, which we have already documented.) Although global success remains controversial as the Netflix ratings department does not follow an open door policy, Sacred Games is clearly a phenomenon in India. This in turn means that the cast and crew have more pressure to deliver on the show's return since the second season of Sacred Games is canceled at midnight on Thursday.

In the first three episodes of Sacred Games 2 – to which Netflix critics gave access – it is clear that the pace is at least not an issue. This is partly supported by the fact that Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) has fewer days to thwart the nuclear attack on the horizon. (Four days pass in the first three episodes.) The Netflix series quickly changes from one scene to another, but also knows when to take a break and linger a little. This is the moment when interactions between characters come into play, and in season 2 there are some enjoyable ones thanks to new and recurring characters. And it makes it much easier to switch between flashbacks and the present by weaving a common thread.

The show is divided narratively. On the one hand, it is ready to make room to explore Sartaj's guilt about the death of his friend and colleague Constable Katekar (Jitendra Joshi) in season 1 and the impact on the rest of the Katekar family. Part of it briefly touches cow watch and Hindu nationalism, updates Vikram Chandra's book, and makes sacred games more relevant to the present day. At the same time, the Ganesh Gaitonde story (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) spins its wheels in the first episodes. Of course, it's still observable from moment to moment, but it feels like a repetition of its early season 1 bow. It is almost as if the Gaitonde line is stalling so that the Sartaj line can catch up.

For what it's worth, there are some delights along the route – in addition to the conversations mentioned above – with Sacred Games that are playing meta at the start of season two. There is an elaborate replica of some memorable moments from season one that work on two different levels. It's an obvious ironic trick, and it also takes Bollywood's connection to the Mumbai underworld. Interestingly, this self-referential approach, in the context of the second season, in which the Gaitonde story is involved in the process of completing the book, reads differently, as the makers of Sacred Games have shown. It's a way to close its circle, suggesting that Siddiqui may not matter if there is a third season that Netflix undoubtedly wants to have given the show's popularity.

Sacred Games 2 pretty much starts where we left off, and Sartaj & Co. examine the Fallout Shelter and its contents: a dead Trivedi (Chittaranjan Tripathi). The nuclear act ties in with Hizbuddin, a fictional terror outfit that has ties to a Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey) that was mentioned repeatedly in season two, but is nowhere to be seen in the early stages – which is said to be behind everything from the 1993 bombings in Bombay to 1999 kidnapping of Kandahar by Inspector Majid Ali Khan (Aamir Bashir). As part of a new investigation team, Sartaj and Majid then went in search of Shahid Khan while the former Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi), the spiritual guru, whom Gaitonde described as his "third father", is investigating.

This brings Guruji's long-time successor Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin) into play, who oversees the Ashram in Mumbai and is one of several new female characters in the second season of Sacred Games. There is a much bigger role – at least in the first episodes – for RAW agent Kusum Devi Yadav (Amruta Subhash), a character that was tipped from the book by gender. At the beginning of season two, Gaivedonde is asked by Trivedi and Yadav to work for them in Mombasa, Kenya. Of course, he refuses the offer because he has only one thing in mind: to return home and take revenge on Suleiman Isa (Saurabh Sachdeva), who almost killed him in prison, but Gaitonde hardly got away with his life.

But things have changed drastically. In Bombay, police attacked gangs after the 1992-1993 riots, while Isa climbed the ladder after moving to Dubai. (The parallels to Dawood Ibrahim, on which the character is based, continue, of course.) Gaitonde is both impulsive and powerless, and with no cards to play, he accepts Yadav's offer to become essentially a government pawn. Working for them, however, means listening and compromising, which eventually breaks Gaitonde's mind. No wonder, then, that a man who doesn't believe in God turns to a guru – with Trivedi as an impetus – who lacks the answers and control he desperately seeks.

Sacred Games 2 builds on Guruji's introduction from all sides and cheekily hints at the potentially literal – but initially metaphorical – nuclear cloud that is thrown over everyone by tripathic lines like "Time is radioactive" in the second The authors – chief author Varun Grover and his new writing team from Dhruv Narang (Gormint), Nihit Bhave (Hey Prabhu!) And Pooja Tolani – can expand the mythological perspectives of the Hindus. Sacred Games 2 also drives the afterlife by including several dream sequences in the first three episodes that allow the characters deepest fears and concerns to come to the surface.

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Pankaj Tripathi as Guruji in Sacred Games 2
Credit: Zishaan A. Latif / Netflix

This helps avoid exposure, although it isn't always as effective elsewhere. Fortunately, the dynamics between the actors – and the profane repartee between the characters – make it easier to look at. This is especially true for the conversations between Gaitonde and Yadav and between Gaitonde and Jojo Mascarenhas (Surveen Chawla), the “talent manager” woman who died in the opening moments of the first season, but a much larger presence in the second season are not afraid of Gaitonde, which contributes strongly to the dynamic. And the references to the darkness in their respective worlds, be it demons in the past or a terrible fate around the corner, make it even more fascinating.

That being said, most of the humor in the second season of Sacred Games is based on Gaitonde's (omniscient) narrative, as was the case in season one How Gaitonde's men behave and react to the boss's gimmicks when he's not around. And there is an additional comedy that arises from the naivety of a drug dealer with a baby face that Gaitonde makes his henchman.

On the cinematic side, the most striking thing at the beginning is an eye-catching, one-minute shot that is part of a chase and involves climbing into a four-story building. At the same time, Sacred Games 2 also makes some factual, logical and continuity errors. While most of them are small and forgivable – they jump incorrectly for years, pointlessly killing minor characters and furniture movements – Sartaj himself is the tallest and stupidest of them all. In interviews, Khan revealed that he had lost weight to repeat his role in Season 2, which makes absolutely no sense from a narrative point of view. The show starts exactly where we left off. When did Sartaj lose all that weight?

It won't be a big problem if the season as a whole is exciting and rewarding, but we can't say that with certainty considering that Netflix has only given us access to less than half of it. (There are eight episodes in total.) It's like judging a two-and-a-half hour film in its first hour. Netflix, which doesn't allow critics to watch the entire season, is curious and reminiscent Leilawhose first and second half of the season were opposite. Sacred Games 2 is unlikely to share this fate, but it is impossible to say how well the storylines set in motion will pay off, including those in which the Katekar family is involved. With these ifs and buts left, we'll take a closer look when all episodes are available.

Sacred Games 2 will be released on August 15th at 12:00 p.m. IST on Netflix in India.