Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel Sacred Games, has been adapted as a Netflix series directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. The three key characters in the series, which will be premiered on July 6, are Sartaj Singh, Ganesh Gaitonde and Anjali Mathur, played by Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte respectively. But other characters and actors are likely to stand out by the end of the first season, which clocks eight episodes. We pick three: the dancer Cuckoo (Kubbra Sait), who has a relationship with Gaitonde, constable Katekar (Jitendra Joshi), who is Sartaj’s Man Friday, and Malcom (Luke Kenny), the omniscient assassin who complicates the investigation into Gaitonde’s sudden death.

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Sacred Games (2018).

Luke Kenny: ‘Something awesomely badass’

An assassin is something I’ve never played before, and it was a great contrast to my perceived image as a musician. It also allowed me to further extend myself as an actor and establish those very abilities beyond the typecasting handicap, that the Indian film industry has been suffering from, with regard to actors who look like myself.

The day I got a call from Phantom [the series co-producer], I kind of gauged it would be something out of the ordinary. And once the project was discussed with me, it only enhanced my enthusiasm and expectations of it being something awesomely badass, that I was going to be a part of.

The clarity of vision that Vikram [Motwane] had for the character was superbly and simplistically singular. He has the character arc in mind but yet he wants you, as an actor, to come up with how you would like to play it.

Malcom, my character, makes a lot of decisions in the moment, which sends the story along into various delicious tailspins. That was extremely invigorating to play. Malcom has no remorse, is cold, and yet has to get the job done for a greater agenda. But he is calmly eccentric and has this weird unflinching look about him that unsettles a lot of characters in the story.

Luke Kenny in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.
Luke Kenny in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.

Indian audiences have long since been at the mercy of censorship and a lot of creative vision has thus been compromised over the years (and still does, in so many stupid ways).

In being the bold and creatively supportive platform that Netflix is, and in the choice of Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane as the captains of their Indian maiden voyage, they have set sail an armada of revolution that will change the way Indian audiences have seen content play out till date. Now great edgy and balls out stories no longer have to be constricted and throttled to fit a regressive agenda. The world will now see the true potential of Indian stories, Indian storytelling and most importantly, Indian storytellers.

I last starred in Qarib Qarib Single, which was thanks to the courageous casting decision of director Tanuja Chandra, who saw fit to bring an actor such as myself into a different mould. As an actor I am constantly in search of roles to play that are always against the grain of what someone like me is perceived to be. Otherwise it wouldn’t be acting if all I ever do is play to my looks. As for seeing me more on screen, all I will say is “Here I am, baby...come and get me!!”

Kubbra Sait: ‘Cuckoo is the freaking queen of Bombay’

In the audition, I was asked to enact two scenes: one in which my character has her first conversation with Gaitonde about how he is a complete loser and how he is building castles in the air. This was technically what I was doing too – I was building castles in the air.

The second scene was the one in which I’m having sex with him. Maybe it is just the person that I am, the audition worked and it all just fell into place.

When I was told that I was selected, I got the book and I tried to search for Cuckoo in it. Cuckoo is a glimpse in the book. But Cuckoo is a chunk in the show.

I had six days to prepare and I died a few million deaths when I had to dance because I dance like a man and not just any man but a drunk Sindhi uncle. So from drunk Sindhi uncle to becoming a sensual, beautiful woman and dancing in a night club was the biggest challenge. And that too in six days.

We were writing the script while it was being made and so, the dialogue we used in the audition was different from the scenes. It all happened quite in the moment, true to the emotions the characters were feeling. Cuckoo, for instance, is someone who is a freaking queen. She rules this city and she can have anybody she wants. She wants Gaitonde and when those feelings are reciprocated it is nothing less than spectacular.

I fed off the lines Anurag [Kashyap] gave me because you know when Anurag writes, he writes with joy. He would tell us not to disturb him, he’ll go and sit somewhere and write. When he comes out, he’s jumping like a child, exclaiming with happiness and pride about the scene he has just written. You just want to join him in this bliss and give your best. Playing Cuckoo would not have been easy if not for the camaraderie we had on the sets.

The relationship between Gaitonde and Cuckoo is just beautiful. The way he looks at Cuckoo, the way Cuckoo feels for him, the fact that the whole world is against it – this happens in every good relationship. Although this show is set in the 1980s, when Cuckoo falls in love with Gaitonde, she doesn’t give a flying fuck about what the world thinks. When she leaves Isa and goes to Gaitonde, she is doing it willingly, she knows what she’s getting into and she can make Bombay spin on her finger tips.

There’s a part, where Paritosh [Gaitonde’s money man] asks him what the fuck he thinks he is doing. He asks him if Gaitonde is trying to tell the world that he is going to be happy with this chick. He tells him that to be able to be happy in life, you need to have children and have a family and asks Gaitonde to ask Cuckoo to give him that. When Gaitonde stands up for Cuckoo at that time, you know he overlooks all of it. This is the 1980s we’re talking about. We’re talking about a narrative that is truly forward.

Kubra Sait in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.
Kubra Sait in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.

The characters are a product of the vision of Motwane and Kashyap. If they wanted to play it safe, they could have. The writers were all in such awe of Cuckoo. They all felt that the character has so much flavour and stands out and therefore there just had to be more of her in the show. She could not have been just a pretty chick hanging out and dancing in a bar. There had to be a character, a graph, something more than what meets the eye.

I expect two kinds of reactions to Cuckoo: the first from people who love me and Cuckoo. The other will be from the audience that does not understand this. I won’t be surprised if I get trolled and called a bunch of names. But before that, right now, I’m just excited.

Jitendra Joshi: ‘Katekar is colourful, a mischievous personality’

I happened to be in Versova in Mumbai one evening with my friend Vasu Naik, director of the Marathi film Vakratunda Mahakaya. We were looking for a place to hang out and Vasu suggested his friend Mandar Gosavi’s house. Gosavi was working with casting director Mukesh Chabbra. It was during that meeting that Chhabra told me about Katekar’s character and asked if I’d be interested.

I hesitated, saying I didn’t like to play constables and that my career in Marathi cinema was going well. He persisted and said that it was a great character and I should consider giving it a shot. I took his suggestion, gave an audition and even got selected.

I knew that Katekar is paired with Sartaj Singh, who is played by Saif Ali Khan. I told Vikram [Motwane] that I will need at least one script reading with Khan. I did not know his working style; I know he is a fantastic actor. But I had never met him and did not want to meet him for the first time directly on the sets. Since the characters we play share such a great bond, I wanted to ensure that a semblance of that bond is created between Khan and I before we started shooting. So, Vikram, Varun Grover, who is one of the writers of the show, and I went to Saif’s house. We had such a fantastic reading session at his house. That’s how it all began.

Around the time of the audition, I knew the general graph of my role but all the smaller bits, quirks and nuances were what I was yet to wrap my head around. The actor who plays Katekar’s wife in the series had even read Chandra’s book. I had done no such thing. I was like, let’s play it by the ear.

Jitendra Joshi in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.
Jitendra Joshi in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.

As I sunk my teeth into the role, I realised that Katekar and I are similar in a lot of ways. One major difference is that he hates Muslims, which I obviously don’t. I don’t even believe in religion.

For years now, I have been friends with a lot of policemen in Mumbai. As a Marathi stage artist, run-ins with the police are very common. In fact in 2001, as part of a drama competition, I assisted Arun Nalawade as he directed a play for the police. At that time, I spent close to two months amidst policemen and became familiar with their lifestyle, their conversations. I developed a kind of affinity for them. Constables are unique in that they are fed up with their jobs but still carry on, amidst the harshest of circumstances.

Katekar embodies many of these qualities but along with that he has a very colourful personality, there’s a sense of mischief to him too. He respects his seniors, trusts and loves them but understands the system better than them, even more than Sartaj. He exudes a sense of wisdom that comes with experience, and such people manage to communicate things even when they’re not talking to you. Expressions, reactions, looks suffice. I wanted to bring that aspect to my performance.

Motwane is a director who will not move to the next shot unless the current one is perfect. At the same time, he is not one to shower his actors with words of praise if he is happy with their performance. He’ll just say, okay. Once, between shots, I asked him if the show was going okay. He looked surprised. So I told him he doesn’t say much after every shot. “But I say okay, no?” he said.

On the last day of the shoot, though, he hugged me for a long time. That’s when I knew that I had done a decent job.

I haven’t worked much in Hindi cinema or with a lot of stars. Often , on the sets of such a huge production, actors come, do their work and leave. But Saif is different. There’s a scene in which Sartaj and Katekar are in a jeep and Katekar is driving. We’re both supposed to be sweating. We were handed a spray each. The shot began and it was time to use the spray. I stopped the car on the side and saw that Saif was holding a mirror for me. I was stunned. Which star does this? He just said, “Sir, you’re my co-star.”