on the actor's trail

‘There was a fear that someone would just skip this’: Saif Ali Khan on Netflix series ‘Sacred Games’

The actor talks to ‘Scroll.in’ about the success of his debut web series and the challenges and opportunities of an international platform.

Netflix’s Indian original series Sacred Games, which was premiered on the streaming platform on July 6, marked a first for several members of its top-line cast. The adaptation of the 2006 Vikram Chandra novel of the same name, which has been directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, saw Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui moving away from the big screen and embracing the digital space.

Khan has earned the distinction of being the first major Hindi film star to step into the Netflix universe. Khan has won praise for his realistic portrayal of Mumbai police inspector Sartaj Singh, who is forced into the spotlight after he is warned by gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Siddiqui) that his city is under threat.

In a conversation with Scroll.in from London, Khan spoke about his fear that audiences would bypass the series and his camaraderie with his brilliant co-star Jitendra Joshi, who plays his trusted aide Katekar.

You must be enjoying the compliments ‘Sacred Games’ has generated.
The thing I am enjoying the most is to be part of a show that is the first one that came out of India and is competing globally and being considered a good watch by a lot of reviewers who don’t normally review the films that come out of India.

And that was always the idea: to try and have an acting style that isn’t typical or like we do at home, and try and make it more international by not overdoing stuff. That is one thing that is sinking through in all the conversations over the last few days.

Sacred Games (2018).

As an established Bollywood star, were there any apprehensions?
There were no apprehensions as such. Netflix is a natural universe when it comes to entertainment in today’s times. We knew that the guys are serious about the kind of content they want to produce, the production house has their best directors directing, the cast was good, the technicians working on it were good.

So if there were any apprehensions, it was whether Indian actors and technicians could perform internationally or not. So that was one fear. Because you get used to acting in a certain way, which is fine, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. There had to be tweaks. There were times when Vikramaditya Motwane would tell me, you are doing a bit much, put it down a bit, because it’s for a different audience.

On the whole, it was very satisfying. Even halfway through, you wondered whether people would watch the whole thing or want to skip this episode. I don’t really know because I am used to doing movies. So there was a fear that someone would just skip this.

Would you say it has been liberating to work in this project? One of the big talking points about the first season was the profanity and depiction of sex.
It was a liberating atmosphere, and we were quite self-restraining. We did not have bad language or sex for the sake of it. We wanted to tell a story, and this medium is fantastic because there are so many stories out there that should be told. Like the story of the Mughals or the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, interestingly done. It’s a very creative zone, devoid of certain pressures and constraints that one would associate with the kind of films we normally do.

Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games (2018). Courtesy Netflix.
Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games (2018). Courtesy Netflix.

You had bulked up for the show, but the slouched shoulders and defeatist body language gradually make way for a more confident stride towards the end of the season. What we can expect in the next season?
In season two, I think he will be much more activated and a bit softer. The graph starts from minus 10 and goes up to becoming a hero at the end of the book. So you will have to look at the graph in the second half.

I think he [Sartaj] is a complicated guy. He has lots of issues. I don’t think he should totally change into a hero. He will still be battling his demons and have his weak moments. But generally, I think the story has to pick up a bit of pace.

You have a delightful camaraderie with your co-actor Jitendra Joshi, who is almost a Watson to your Sherlock.
Yes, he is. I think the minute you have a cop and a partner, you are in that Sherlock-Watson, Johnson-Boswell, Don Quixote-Sancho Panza zone. One person would be a little dry, the other one a little colourful – it’s interesting viewing. It’s like binoculars, you know, when you have two views creating one view, it’s more interesting.

Jitendra Joshi is a wonderful actor, a really nice guy, and I really enjoyed working with him. I think my acting has improved watching him and that’s been a great pleasure.

Jitendra Joshi and Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.
Jitendra Joshi and Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.
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