"What's It Going To Be Then, Eh?": Sacred Games Season 2 Provides A Timely Commentary On The Precarious State Of The World Today
Armageddon is looming, Sacred Games reminds us in its closing seconds; is there any chance we can pull ourselves back just in time?
If you only speed-watched Sacred Games season 1 and barely remember the story, don’t leap straight into season 2 because of peer pressure: You might feel just as adrift as gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is in the opening scene. Because this season is very much a straight continuation of an intense, detailed, multi-character story that spans two timelines.
In the present day—that is, 2017—cop Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) races against time to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Mumbai; meanwhile we get flashbacks to the strange life of Gaitonde as he finds himself being used as a pawn by almost everyone he meets—and is eventually drawn towards a guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) who wants to usher in a new “Satya Yuga”. Much like The Comedian from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Gaitonde would like to think of himself as the ultimate nihilistic badass—even a dark God—but slowly realizes that other people have much more nefarious designs than he does; that he is a cog in an unimaginably large machine. Much of Sacred Games’s emotional impetus comes from his personal journey as he deals with guilt, paranoia and hubris, and tries to find succour in his relationships with guruji, Jojo (Surveen Chawla) and the city of Mumbai, among others.
But there is also the less dramatic, less author-backed—yet in its own way, equally compelling—journey of Sartaj, dealing with his own demons and drawn to similar addictions as Gaitonde once was. The first cover of Vikram Chandra’s huge novel had depicted the faces of these two men blurring into each other; though the show has often deviated from the book’s content, it builds fascinating parallels between the arcs of Ganesh and Sartaj.
For the first four or five episodes, I liked season 2 better than its predecessor: It is more relaxed, allows itself narrative detours, and the Gaitonde sections are often very funny—including his profane commentary on the 9/11 attacks and a scene where a film director named Ram G Varma is 'persuaded' to make a biographical film. But my attention waned a little in the final stretch. This could be a case of fatigue setting in during a binge-watch—or it may be that the narrative inevitably becomes confusing as the two timelines converge: When we cross-cut between events of 2017 and 2015 (as opposed to 2017 and the 1980s), it is trickier to keep track of chronology as well as what happened to this or that side-character.
Even so, each episode has at least a couple of scenes that will have you riveted (don’t miss the opening scene of episode 7, the final meeting between Ganesh and his guruji) and the quality of the writing and the performances is never in doubt. The show’s last scene (no spoilers) may seem 'open', with an eye on a possible renewal for season 3, but it works as a finale on its own terms if you think of it as commentary on the precarious state that India and the world finds itself in today, through ecological destruction as well as majoritarian insistence on 'purity'. Armageddon is looming, Sacred Games reminds us in its closing seconds; is there any chance we can pull ourselves back just in time? To quote a line from a famous dystopian novel, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”