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'Sacred Games' season 2: Behind the scenes with Saif Ali Khan and the cast

‘Sacred Games’ returns to Netflix on August 15

‘Sacred Games’ returns to Netflix on August 15   | Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix

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A day at the shoot of Sacred Games’ second season promised a more thrilling and complicated Singh-Gaitonde universe, with new faces criss-crossing between present day Mumbai and Kenya, South Africa and Croatia

Straining their eyes at a tiny monitor in a dark studio in Malad’s Vrundavan Entertainment, a group of journalists take the first look at a short scene from the second season of Sacred Games. With his hand bandaged, Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) slowly approaches a seated Batya Abelman (Kalki Koechlin) who dons mustard robes with a brown shawl draped across her shoulders. Singh sits opposite her on the floor, an ornate mandala on the wall behind them centres the framing, and she places a bowl in front of him as the camera gradually dollies towards them.

Saif Ali Khan and Kalki Koechlin on the sets of the show

Saif Ali Khan and Kalki Koechlin on the sets of the show   | Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix

“This is a turning point in the episode,” whispers showrunner Vikramaditya Motwane, carefully tiptoeing around spoilers. All he offers is that the scene is integral to Singh’s investigation of Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) — a cult-leader and the man who mobster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) regards as his “third father.”

All this transpired on an afternoon in late January when the shooting for Netflix’s first Indian original series’ upcoming season was well underway. About six months later, on August 15, the stories of Gaitonde and Singh will be back on Netflix in eight episodes directed by Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan of Masaan fame.

Sacred Games, based on Vikram Chandra’s over-900-page long 2006 novel, unpacks the foaming nexus between Mumbai’s police, politicians, gangsters and the film industry through the separate yet overlapping narratives of Singh and Gaitonde. Spanning four decades of Mumbai’s, and even the country’s, history, it has the honest but unassuming cop Singh warned by Gaitonde — before the gangster kills himself — that the city will be razed in 25 days. It is suggested that this will be the result of a nuclear attack.

“It has become more of a thriller,” said Saif Ali Khan whose Singh has less than half the time at hand this season, “There’s a ticking bomb and higher stakes. Where it used to be sleeping pills, now it’s grade A drugs.” Singh’s moral conflicts, the actor explained, build into larger complicated questions: “Is the world a good place, and should it be saved at all?”

The show is based on Vikram Chandra’s over-900-page long 2006 novel

The show is based on Vikram Chandra’s over-900-page long 2006 novel   | Photo Credit: Zishaan A. Latiff/Netflix

Dealing with these questions, and half of the show through Singh’s narrative, director Neeraj Ghaywan has taken the mantle over from Motwane who was juggling the responsibilities of both the showrunner and director for the first season. “This is my second day on set in our entire schedule! I completely trust him,” Motwane laughed as he grinned at Ghaywan, remarking that nearly 40 days of Sartaj Singh’s shoot had been completed.

The soft-spoken Ghaywan’s debut feature Masaan (a 2015 film that Motwane was one of the producers of) bagged two awards at Cannes 2015. Ghaywan had previously assisted Anurag Kashyap (who directs Gaitonde’s narrative) on Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and Ugly (2013). Yet it felt slightly daunting for him to helm the project alongside his mentors who had made the show successful. However, Ghaywan added that returning cinematographer Swapnil Sonawane (Newton, Zubaan, Angry Indian Goddesses) brought a consistency to the visual vocabulary, lifting the huge burden that weighed heavy on him as the director.

The second season has eight episodes directed by Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan

The second season has eight episodes directed by Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan   | Photo Credit: Zishaan A. Latif/Netflix

Motwane admitted to being less nervous about passing the baton on to Ghaywan. “He was the only director in my head who I could trust to have his own vision,” he said, adding that Ghaywan was meant to be a co-director in the first season as well — when the plan was to have more than two directors handle the show’s spliced stories. But about the other director, Motwane said jokingly, “Kashyap is my worst enemy. We are best friends, and we drink a lot together, but we will not go on each other’s sets.”

It was apt then, that Gaitonde’s narrative was being shot in Goregaon’s Film City the same day. In a dark studio, Ranvir Shorey (Shahid Khan, a new addition to this season) was pointing at a laptop screen while Luke Kenny (as the assassin Malcolm Mourad) and a bearded Siddiqui, looked on. On approaching the group to field questions, Kashyap chuckled and refused to explain what the three were conniving at in the scene.

While Gaitonde’s story continues to be told through flashbacks this season, Singh’s countdown happens in present-day Mumbai, and Kashyap shared that Chandra was kept in the loop on the decisions to turn his 2006 novel into a contemporary show. Behind this process is Varun Grover as the lead writer and writers Dhruv Narang, Pooja Varma and Nihit Bhave.

About the backdrop for Gaitonde’s track, Kashyap said that it now unwraps beyond the country’s borders — “Kenya, Croatia, South Africa, and we also ‘cheated’ some locations.” Siddiqui, donning a goatee and moustache when he met us later, had just come from finishinganother Gaitonde scene — visiting his ‘first’ father. The actor spoke about shooting abroad and how he couldn’t help missing Kubbra Sait’s character, Cuckoo the cabaret dancer. He recounted a coincidence: “We were shooting in a bar in Nairobi. I left the bar, turned and saw [the name] ‘Cuckoo Bar’.”

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is back as Ganesh Gaitonde

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is back as Ganesh Gaitonde   | Photo Credit: Tejinder Singh Khamkh/Netflix

The show’s success was evident while filming abroad: whether it was being allowed to shoot in a large riverside bungalow or on the boat on which Free Willy 2 (1995) was filmed, fans of the show often stepped in with support, shared Kashyap.

The first season packed together the multilingual experience of Mumbai and sprinkled in frequent references to characters’ conflicts, and the country’s political and religious climate, through metaphors from Hindu mythology. But the specifics didn’t appear to have deterred the foreign audiences, as reportedly two of every three viewers of the show, in the first season, were from outside India. Whether from the Indian diaspora, or not, however, is another question.

For now what remains to be seen is if the new season — with new additions to the cast like Tripathi (with an extended role as Guruji), Koechlin, Shorey and Surveen Chawla (the new mother will return to portray Jojo Mascarenas) — will be able to entice more viewers.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 3:38:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/sacred-games-set-visit-can-saif-ali-khan-save-the-world-in-season-2/article28757108.ece

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