Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane co-direct Sacred Games, Netflix’s first Indian original

Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj

Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane have been long-time collaborators. The filmmakers are not just partners at Phantom Films but have worked in each other’s films in different capacities. For Sacred Games, Netflix’s first Indian original series based on Vikram Chandra’s 006 thriller, both wear directors’ hats. “We just directed two different timelines, threw it against the wall to see what stuck. It was deliberate, we wanted two different feels for two different characters,” said Motwane.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Gaitonde

In the first four episodes that t2 has already seen, the Gaitonde timeline, directed by Kashyap, and Motwane’s Sartaj merge seamlessly to deliver a taut underworld thriller. t2 sat with the duo at JW Marriott in Juhu in Mumbai to talk about casting Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Gaitonde and shooting on the streets on Mumbai. 

Vikramaditya and Anurag

Why Sacred Games?

Anurag Kashyap: Because we love it, I’ve loved it for a very long time. Sacred Games is like that woman whose poster I put up in my boarding school on the wall and I finally got to make love to her (laughs).

Vikramaditya Motwane: I actually hadn’t read it when it came out. I had read Vikram’s (Chandra, author) Love and Longing in Bombay, which is a collection of short stories. One of the stories had the character of Sartaj Singh, who I was quite intrigued by. It’s only when I was going to meet Netflix that I read the book, and I had to read a 1,000-page book in a week’s time, but I finished it... it was great. I really enjoyed it.

It isn’t the easiest book to adapt, given it’s got so much and because it came out over a decade ago. How much did you have to change while adapting it?

Motwane: We had the normal challenges and did the usual things that one has to do while changing a novel to a visual medium — it’s about making your characters and conflicts a little more active. Otherwise, we’ve stuck to the spirit of the book; the mood is what Vikram Chandra would have wanted to have out there. We had to leave out some details, but there are certain things that we stuck to — like the dog falling out of the window, the speaker on the wall, small details like Sartaj walking in and feeling cold. It’s about taking those little details and putting them in for the fans of the book, but most of it is beat followed by beat, because it’s all about the drama.

What made Nawaz and Saif perfect to play Gaitonde and Sartaj?

Motwane: It’s almost like taking a leaf out of House of Cards — would the show work the same without Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey? Given that this was India’s first Netflix show, we wanted to cast people who are stars and bring so much value just by dint of who they are, which is why Saif and Nawaz. Fans of the book were surprised at us casting Saif as Sartaj, but there’s something on his face that is simply magical — he’s brought a lot of emotion to the character. While he’s not the Sartaj of the book that you expect, he’s very Sartaj in a weird sort of way. 

Nawaz has done gangsters so many times, but that’s the whole point — he’s so good at that. He’s so malleable, he’s like clay and you can shape him in any way you want. Also, he’s the boss and Nawaz is that. He owns the role in a way where you want to be this guy, there’s a sense of familiarity, like a kindred spirit.

How did you decide who directs Gaitonde and who gets Sartaj?

Kashyap: It was about who wanted to sleep with whom the most. Nawaz and I have had a secret relationship for a very long time (laughs). But seriously, Vikram was the boss and made all the decisions and calls. He just told me what to do. 

Mumbai is an integral character of the book. What did it take to get down to the streets and shoot?

Kashyap: Great location manager! I’ve always shot like that. Vikram should tell you because Saif was not recognisable as a sardar and I don’t think he’s shot like this on the streets before.

Motwane: I shot Bhavesh Joshi and Sacred Games one after the other. It pretty much felt like one extended film for me because I’ve shot everything on the streets of Mumbai. The digital medium has made it all possible because you don’t need to do as much lighting as you needed to do in the past. Saif’s look helped because people didn’t recognise him. And Mumbai has so much character anyway — you just need to go out there and get your hands dirty.

What’s very interesting is that the show has original songs in it.

Kashyap: If someone wants to make a dance bar scene from the ’80s, they would have done it to a Parveen Babi song. That should have been Jawani janeman and we actually rehearsed to it. But we decided to compose our own songs with that ’70s-’80s sound.

Is it too presumptuous to think that this could change the face of Indian television?

Motwane: That’s the hope. There’s currently a big hole for us — we have movies and then we have Balaji (Telefilms), and there’s nothing in between. As the audience, I want to be able to watch good Indian dramatic television on a streaming platform. As an industry member, I want to be able to see better scripts, better shows, better directors and better actors. Also, it’s about the work it’ll generate.

It’s eight episodes this season... do you have a sense of what’s next?

Kashyap: We’ll see how the show does, and how the viewing is.

What are you bingeing on right now?

Kashyap: I’m not bingeing right now, but I’m watching The Crown. I watch one episode every night. It’s the last thing I do every night, and I cry and get emotional, and go to sleep feeling like a human being.

Motwane: I think platforms like Netflix give you the choice to consume content at the pace you want. You want to binge, you want to watch two episodes at a time, or two every week... it’s completely up to you, and that’s great. With shows like Fargo, for example, which has one episode being released on FX every week, I’d rather wait for the entire run to get finished before I start watching. I don’t want to wait, and Netflix gives us that choice.


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