When the second season of the Netflix series Sacred Games emerges on August 15, we will see returning actors, new cast members, and a developing story told by an addition to the direction team. While Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane co-directed the first season, Neeraj Ghaywan takes charge this time round of Mumbai police inspector Sartaj Singh’s track. Kashyap continues to lead gangster Ganesh Gaitonde’s story, which includes a fleshing out of his verbally crackling and volatile relationship with the madam Jojo.

The adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s novel revolves around Sartaj Singh’s efforts to unravel the mystery behind Gaitonde’s suicide. Before his death, Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), tells Sartaj (Saif Ali Khan) about a deadly conspiracy that has links to a guru (Pankaj Tripathi). The cast includes Neeraj Kabi, Aamir Bashir, Luke Kenny, Jatin Sarna, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey and Amruta Subhash.

Surveen Chawla plays Jojo, who supplies women to Gaitonde. In the first part of an interview, Chawla tells Scroll.in about playing a woman who becomes Gaitonde’s confidante. In the second half, Ghaywan discusses his entry into a world very different from the one explored in his lyrical debut film Masaan.

Surveen Chawla: ‘Jojo cares a damn’

We know Jojo’s fate from season one itself, but in season two, we get greater insights into her life and relationship with Gaitonde. How would you describe her?
Jojo is somebody who speaks her mind and cares a damn. Her life has not been a cakewalk, which is why she has turned out the way she has. She’s sassy, bad-ass, and intelligent.

Gaitonde and Jojo do have a very volatile relationship. She’s not had love in her life and probably the one person who is giving her some affection is Gaitonde, for whom this is also a first time. There is a lovely texture to their bond.

Surveen Chawla. Photo by Rohan Shrestha for Netflix.

What was it like reuniting with Anurag Kashyap, who previously directed you in ‘Ugly’?
It’s always amazing working with him. He’s an actor’s delight. He will take you to spaces you would never go to on your own. He has the ability to draw experiences out of you so he gets what he wants.

As an actor, transparency is very important. I still remember something Adil Hussain told me during the shooting of Parched. He said the screen conveys all the truth and honesty to the viewer so the actor should be like water – fluid and seamlessly flowing into any vessel given to her.

Speaking of ‘Parched’, were you disappointed the film didn’t do more for you?
Of course I was. It didn’t get the eyeballs it should have and while it did give me the respect that I thought I deserved, it also upset me that it didn’t translate into something greater. That is until Sacred Games happened.

Parched (2016).

What’s next for you? More Punjabi films?
I have not been doing Punjabi films for a long time now primarily because I am focussing on the Hindi film industry. But also because things have not changed much over there. The films still belong to the hero. Why can’t we have stories with gender-agnostic protagonists? Why do we have to have heroes and heroines?

I had given myself six months after the birth of my daughter before getting back to work. For now, I have Sacred Games. I have been doing mainstream commercial cinema in Punjab. So I don’t know how I have gotten into this space of playing such dark, devastated characters in Hindi films. I now want to do light commercial work in Hindi cinema too.

Neeraj Ghaywan: ‘Saif was a pleasure to work with’

Were there challenges picking up the thread of a story already in flight?
Yes and no. On the one hand, it is easier because there is a template in place and an arc to follow. Knowing the back story is a very important part of the process for me.

On the other hand, it was difficult to match up to Motwane’s style, craft and finesse. Unlike Sacred Games, Masaan had more block shots and simple storytelling. So I conditioned myself by watching shows, researching and preparing for the action scenes.

What to expect: Sacred Games season 2.

You were working with actors who knew their characters better than you did.
Yes. I was especially apprehensive about working with Saif. I have never directed a star before. But he was an absolute pleasure to work with. He’s so articulate, intelligent and well-read, so it was easier to engage with him. I also shot a bit of the ashram and with the cops. While there are a lot of new characters, Majid [played by Aamir Bashir] is one of my favourites.

It’s been four years since ‘Masaan’. Besides commercials and short films, this is your first major work. What’s been keeping you?
The second film syndrome happened to me. For the longest time I didn’t know what I wanted to make. I went into a shell that I came out of thanks to Sacred Games.

I like my characters to be more etched out. They question the world and are political beings that engage with society. My characters have an internalised thought process. Caste and gender are at the fulcrum. But with Sacred Games, I thought I would try something different – action pieces and visual pieces. You will still see my penchant for emotions and narrative. For instance, you will see a more emotional, angry and in-charge Sartaj.

Masaan (2015).

Did the writing and directing team incorporate any changes and feedback after season one?
In a way, some audience feedback does seep in, but our team has never been under pressure to play to the masses. For example, if I know that making Sartaj a little lighter might make him more interesting, I have to bring that in without disrupting the narrative or tampering with the character’s world.

Also read:

Pankaj Tripathi’s challenge on being Guruji in ‘Sacred Games S2’: ‘Engaging without being bloodless’

How ‘Sacred Games’ stays true to the source novel but also turns it on its head

‘Dark, criminal, funny, with truth underneath’: Alokananda Dasgupta on the music of ‘Sacred Games’

Why the subtitles for ‘Sacred Games’ are offending both Congress members and Hindutva supporters