Energetic, entertaining and replete with uncompromising performances. If international reviews of "Sacred Games" are anything to go by, the Mumbai-set drama on India's dark underworld has given Netflix a "strong start" for its local content in the country.
Netflix's maiden original Indian mini-series, "Sacred Games" is produced by the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Entertainment's Phantom Films joint venture, and directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap of Phantom Films.
It is based on Vikram Chandra's eponymous novel of 2006 and premiered worldwide on Netflix on July 6.
The New York Times notes how, for starters, Netflix has chosen a production from the same genre as a previous success, the American-Colombian "Narcos". It deduces that "a gangster saga with a history lesson is apparently the best algorithm for cross-cultural success" for the content platform.
The gripping series, spread across eight episodes, delves into the life of Sartaj Singh — Saif Ali Khan takes an impressive plunge into the web series pool — and how his path crosses with dreaded gangster Ganesh Gaitonde — essayed with precision by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who like most of his roles in the space, excels here too. Radhika Apte plays a RAW officer.
"It is a welcome distraction from the usual Bollywood gangster epics which tend to glorify the world of crime and grime in a glossy manner. There has been no attempt at sanitising Mumbai into a gleaming, sparkling city," wrote Gulf News, which adds that "the gore may not be for the faint-hearted".
All in all, Gulf News said "Sacred Games" is "thrilling and is a perfect antidote to Bollywood gangster flicks that paint its villains and heroes in broad strokes".
"Here, you aren't sure whether you are rooting for the morally bankrupt or the emotionally stunted. But whichever side you choose, 'Sacred Games' plays fair in the business of entertaining and sending a chill down your spine."
The starting scene itself — when a dog is tossed off a high-rise and falls to his death, and off goes a dialogue, "Do you believe in God? God doesn't give a f*ck" — sets the pace for the gore, the expletive-laden language and the dark narrative that "Sacred Games" uses in its telling of a story on the web of organised crime, corruption, politics and espionage in post-liberalisation India.
A lot of cultural and historical references will go over the head of non-Indian viewers, says The New York Times, referring to the sequences when the screenplay toggles between Gaitonde's story and references to Shah Bano case, Babri Masjid demolition, Mumbai bomb blasts and the rise of the Hindu right wing in the country.
"The combination of dark humour and operatic violence may call to mind 'Fargo'; the slightly hyperbolic characterisations and stylised dialogue are akin to those in 'Luke Cage'," it noted.
Performances by the impressive and carefully chosen cast have found a mention in most reviews.
The Guardian says: "'Sacred Games' has the kind of dense plotting that demands commitment and concentration. Having said that, this kickstart to a whole new TV genre (Bolly noir?) looks like being worth it, with uncompromising performances, a script bristling with lyricism, and an intriguing air of vibrancy and originality."
And according to The Hollywood Reporter: "For those who haven't sampled the impressive depth on Netflix's international TV series bench, 'Sacred Games' provides the kind of intriguing thrills found in the best of those offerings – a worldly mise-en-scene that depicts something familiar but with unique local twists."
The Indian film fraternity has also given the show a thumbs up, with Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Varun Dhawan, Bipasha Basu, Dia Mirza, Vir Das and Arjun Kapoor, among others, calling it a gritty entertainer which kept them on the edge of their seats.
After "Sacred Games", Netflix is already set to launch "Ghoul", its first Indian original horror series, on August 24. It will star Radhika with Manav Kaul, and has also been produced by Phantom Films.