Sacred Games: The story of how Bombay became Mumbai

In the middle of our interview, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has an epiphany. “I just realised something,” he says, interrupting filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, while he is discussing their upcoming series for Netflix, Sacred Games, at a suburban hotel in Mumbai. “There are five great Bombay books,” says Kashyap, naming Sacred Games (Vikram Chandra), Black Friday (Hussain Zaidi), Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts), Mumbai Fables (Gyan Prakash) and Maximum City (Suketu Mehta). “I’ve adapted three of those five already,” he laughs, triggering a realisation in Motwane. “My last two films have also been Bombay films,” says Motwane, whose latest, Bhavesh Joshi, a film on vigilante justice in the city, released last month.

The metropolis has evidently been a muse for the duo, whose ultimate ode to the city is their debut into the world of streaming with Sacred Games. Spread across eight one-hour episodes in season one, the series follows Inspector Sartaj Singh and most-wanted gangster Ganesh Gaitonde to expose the nexus between the underworld, police, politicians and Bollywood. “The book is actually the story of how Bombay became Mumbai,” says Kashyap, adding that the series also attempts to chronicle the transition. “When you watch the series and the whole story is told, you will get a sense of the city, where it came from and where it is today.”

Sacred Games: The story of how Bombay became Mumbai

Motwane reveals that in the early stages of scripting, they took a call to set the series in the present, unlike the book, which is set at the dawn of the new millennium. The 41-year-old filmmaker says that their decision adds a layer of urgency to their narrative. “Because it’s almost a similar sort of government [today] and the vibes are the same, so the threat felt a lot more present,” he reflects.

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One can’t talk about the history of the city without addressing the Bombay Riots, which is an integral aspect of Chandra’s novel. While incorporating the sensitive subject in their adaptation, did Motwane and Kashyap’s find themselves walking on eggshells? “Walking on eggshells is a kind of a fear that has been put in our heads in the last four years,” declares Kashyap. “If you look at it really, there are no eggshells there.” Motwane says that the online space gives them more liberty to push the boundaries but a filmmaker can’t abuse the lack of censorship. “We’re not suddenly being pornographic or sensational,” adds Kashyap.

Collaborative art

Being the showrunner, Motwane has the overall creative authority but shares the co-director seat with Kashyap. “Which means I came in last,” says Kashyap. “In fact, I came in after Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.” While Motwane has directed the present-day portions featuring Khan, Kashyap’s task was to recreate the Bombay of the ’80s with Siddiqui. The duo unanimously agree that the task on hand for Kashyap was far more challenging. “Only because we don’t retain our heritage,” says Kashyap. “To find those pockets of Bombay which has kept itself like it is was painfully difficult.”

Sacred Games: The story of how Bombay became Mumbai

What helped Kashyap recreate the past was his long-standing interest in the underbelly of Mumbai. In the early 2000s, when the filmmaker was carrying out research with author and investigative journalist, S. Hussain Zaidi, for his film, Black Friday, Chandra was working on his novel, Sacred Games, and Mehta was writing Maximum City. “We all were going through the same people and had the same sources,” recounts Kashyap. The three minds had first interacted while working on the script of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000), and from then on shared notes to acquaint themselves well with the dark side of Mumbai. “So when I had read Sacred Games, I knew the real-life parallels to the fiction,” says the 45-year-old filmmaker.

Big brother is watching

To bring out the flavour of the metropolis, it was imperative to penetrate the lesser-explored areas of the city. Motwane finds it easier to shoot in crowded spaces like Dharavi with digital technology as compared to bulky equipment available a decade ago. For instance, the filmmaker has shot an action sequence at BDD chawl. “That is without being intrusive or obstructive,” chimes in Kashyap. “We’re not stuck in Lokhandwala back road any more, which is every Director of Photography’s nightmare,” adds Motwane.

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As the series is dropped on Netflix tomorrow, the duo is excited to find out how it fares in the Indian and international market. Motwane concedes that Netflix doesn’t share their data but “they know you very intimately”. “They’re the big brother,” interjects Kashyap. “They’re watching you watch them.” It’s one of the reasons why the two are hooked onto the medium and plan to continue making original content for the streaming giant.


Saif Ali Khan on rediscovering Mumbai

“Nobody lives in the same Bombay. I got a chance to really experience the city [through Sacred Games]. It’s a cinematic city. It’s visually romantic, even though we complain about it. Most cities in the West look sanitised but there’s a beautiful chaos here.”

Nawazuddin Siddiqui on playing Ganesh Gaitonde

“Gaitonde is an outsider who came from the Konkan belt. He doesn’t think of himself as a gangster. He came from a small village and in the pursuit of making it big, he committed some crimes. But in people’s eyes he is a gangster. So I don’t understand this tag of Bombay gangsters. We name them gangsters but for them they are doing their job, so I play it like a man doing his job without considering himself as a criminal.”

Radhika Apte on the perks of going digital

“The lack of censorship. I did film called Phobia in which my character had some 12 panic attacks and I couldn’t say f**k or s**t. All I had to say was, ‘Oh my god’ or make some sound. Can you imagine doing this in a horror film?”

Stepping in the shoes of

Inspector Sartaj Singh - Saif Ali Khan

Gangster Ganesh Gaitonde - Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Intelligence agent Anjali Mathur - Radhika Apte

Deputy Police Commissioner Parulkar - Neeraj Kabi

Bunty (Gaitonde’s right hand man) - Jatin Sarna

Actor Zoya Mirza - Elnaaz Nourouzi

Inspector Majid Khan - Aamir Bashir

Subhadra Devalekar (Gaitonde’s wife) - Rajshri Deshpande

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 3:31:55 AM |

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