Vikram Chandra’s 900 page book sacred games is a story about Mumbai and tackles all the big themes like crime, love, friendship etc. the novel has some cinematic feel to it.
“Right from the beginning even before the book was published there was already interest in doing something cinematic with it. Before the book was released (in 2006) it had been optioned by a major feature film company in Hollywood. They tried for a couple of years but it became clear to both them and me that it needed a much longer format,” said Chandra in a telephonic conversation with Hindustan times.
Sacred Games, which is streaming on Netflix since July 6, the series consists of 8 episodes which took almost 10 years to write. Chandra was a part of this Netflix project, he was working with writing team of the series. This will be India’s first Netflix original to go live in over 190 countries.
In February, Netflix announced that they will be launching three new Netflix India original series which are Leila, Ghoul and Crocodile. Netflix launched its services in India in January 2016.
All of this began when Chandra met Netflix representatives three and half years ago in there office at Los Angles. “Unlike mainstream American channels where the absence of American characters makes everyone nervous, Netflix is unique and brilliant in its notion of global indies. The idea is they take local stories and use local crews to make them for local audiences and then broadcast those to a global audience. They didn’t mind at all that we didn’t have a CIA agent at the front of this series,” said Chandra to Hindustan times.
Chandra’s book came in mind of Erik Barmack who is the vice president of international original series at Netflix when they were searching for premium content for audience in India and around the world.
“We’d known that others had tried to develop the book as a movie and other series, and it just felt like an interesting property. On the one hand it’s a crime story and on the other we think it touches a lot of different elements of Mumbai history and Indian history,” said Barmack in a telephonic interview from LA.
Netflix was looking for teams, directors, and actors which they wanted to work with on Sacred Games. Phantom Films was on top of that list. “We loved Gangs of Wasseypur, its almost at the sweet spot between a TV series and a movie, it was very complex and long. We loved Vikram’s (Vikramaditya Motwane) movies too. We felt they had a cool sensibility that was pretty consistent with Netflix,” Barmack said.
Vikramaditya Motwane was holidaying in Los Angeles when he got a call from Netflix.“‘Have you read Sacred Games?’ asked my long time friend and agent. He said why don’t you meet these guys next week?” It’s a thousand-page book! I had to speed-read 130 pages a day,” said Motwane.
Vikram was delighted that Netflix has seen his work and wanted to work with him. “The best thing for me was that they wanted to do this in Hindi and not in English. Because speaking in English can seem so fake at times. An Indian Maharashtrian cop speaking in English doesn’t make sense. That was the clincher,” said Motwane, who also referred Saif Ali Khan to the character of police officer Sartaj Singh.
From a creator’s standpoint, Netflix gives you the freedom of using different languages. “They let you use any language and any number of languages that you want to. There are entire scenes for 2-3 minutes in Marathi, followed by Punjabi. So, the series is told in way that we Indians actually live. We are multi lingual,” said Chandra.
Barmack said, the reason is because the number of users speaking English prefer watching shows with different culture and languages. “Which basically means that more and more of the Netflix population is watching either with dubs or in subtitles.”
Process of acquiring a content and showing green flags to new project has moved at a conservative pace so far in India. Sacred games was shot within 150 days in Mumbai.
Vikramaditya Motwane the showrunner of the show, got Director Anurag Kashyap on board for this project after he finished shooting his sports drama Mukkabaaz in May 2017.
Since the book had two parallel stories, Motwane and Anurag Kashyap chose to direct individual parts, Vikram was dealing with the events happening in present which focused on the story of Sartaj Singh played by Saif Ali Khan, and Anurag who focused on the events happened in past which told the story of Ganesh Gaitonde played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Barmack said that it was the first time he heard about this style of story writing. “That was a jaw dropping moment for us. When these two came on board and said we want to follow a visual vision through flashbacks of one character and one director all the way through, we’d never seen that for any of the other series we’d developed,” he said.
Barmack recalls the day when they were shooting a scene from the first episode which he described as a “cool meta movement”.
“In the first episode there is this shelter where Nawaz’s character is tucked away in the midst of a shopping mall and the neighbourhood. Once Saif’s character figures out that Nawaz’s character is in the bunker, he’s trying to bust it down and break inside, and a huge crowd gathers around to watch the shoot. That was a cool moment of art imitating life imitating art,” he said.
“A couple of nights ago I saw the show which has taken a couple of years to come together through my wife’s eyes and she was like this is amazing, its like Narcos, it felt so alive,” Barmack said.
Barmack also said that for a company who wants to stay in India for a long game, Sacred game could be a good start. “Our goal as company or a brand is not to rush a bunch of products out there and then hope it works. We really want to put care and attention into this work that we’re doing and try our best to make sure that our shows and movies are differentiated and fresh,” he said.