Sacred Games: Season 1 Episode 1 Recap - Ashwatthama
Summary: Sacred Games is Netflix's first original series in India. This is Season 1 Episode 1 of Sacred Games explained.
Ever since Netflix has made its entry into the Indian market, Sacred Games was touted as one of their biggest productions. With Saif Ali Khan at the helm and Anurag Kashyap on board as a producer, Sacred Games was positioned as India’s House of Cards. The question I had was - Will it live up to the hype?
The episode begins with a cold open. A dog is mutilated and thrown off a balcony. And a single question “Bhagwan ko maante ho?” I can feel myself getting goosebumps! They are wasting no time in letting us know that Sacred Games is going to be one helluva ride.
In the next scene we find a bloodied woman dragging her feet. She tells Ganesh Gaitonde (played by the brilliant Nawazuddin Sidduqui) that she’s been fooling him for years. He gets angry and shoots her.
Elsewhere there is another shootout, lots of people are getting killed. The man with the gun who’s taking everyone down is asking “Where’s Bunty?” There’s clearly a lot going on. The music is brilliant and builds up the suspense. And I am instantly hooked to Season 1 Episode 1 of Sacred Games because I want answers!
Sartaj Singh is a police officer with no special renown. In the first scene post opening credits, he’s investigating a death in the slums with his junior partner, Constable Katekar. No one looks happy here. He goes back to the police station to find that an inquiry is going on about the death. Parulkar, his boss, and chief of police is testifying that the man was killed in an encounter. This does not go down well with Sartaj who gets up and leaves.
He is hiding in the bathroom when Parulkar enters with Majid, a more capable police officer, and they beat the shit out of him. They tell him to stick to the encounter story in the Bengali Bura case. Or else.
Hmm...looks like Sartaj has a bad case of naivete. Or perhaps he’s just an honest cop guilty about watching a young teenage boy being killed in cold blood. Parulkar leaves him saying that he thinks too much. That’s why his wife has left him. Oof! Poor man can’t seem to catch a break.
They show him stalking his wife outside a hotel. And then at a seedy bar getting a drink with Katekar. There we get some exposition about how Sartaj’s father was also a cop. He was honorable and kind. Sartaj expresses that his wish was to be just like his father and live a simple honorable life. In corrupt Mumbai, that’s just a dream that won’t ever come true.
Instead, he has to deal with this guilt about the boy dying. He was unarmed, surrendering, Sartaj tells Katekar.
Just then he gets a call from an unknown number. It’s Gaitonde, but he doesn’t know that yet. And Gaitonde asks the same haunting question, “Bhagwan ko maante ho?” Sartaj thinks it’s a prank call and he’s not in the mood. So he hangs up with irritation. The Sacred Games are being played by many players in this first episode it seems.
In the next scene, he’s back home. He lives in a simple, unassuming house. He’s all alone. His anger and frustration comes out on the objects and furniture of his house. This is one unhappy dude.
His phone starts ringing once again. I need Sartaj to have this conversation because I need to know why Gaitonde’s calling him. This time Gaitonde mentions him by name and asks him to save the city. Sartaj is curious now. Save the city? From who? From what? Oh and also...he’s friends with Dilbag Singh, Sartaj’s father. The plot thickens.
Sartaj starts recording the call, expecting a tip. He’s in a hurry to find out. It’s late at night and the guy must be tired. But Gaitonde is in the mood to talk. This story is going to take a while.
Ganesh was a young boy of 11 or 12 when he lived in a village in Maharashtra with his brahmin father and mother. His father is a beggar which disgusts him. He adores his mother, but she’s having an affair. When Ganesh finds out and gets bullied about it he...wait for it...murders his mother and her lover and blames it on his father! Yikes! That escalated quickly. This child was always going to end up a criminal.
He then runs away from the village and finds himself in Bombay. He leaves his religion aside, out of disgust for his father who was a practising priest but had to beg for a living. Bombay is his new religion. I find it fascinating that Bombay is almost like a character in the show. The corruption of Bombay, the appeal. The high life and the absolute low that all come together in this melting pot. Oh...and apparently, it needs to be saved. The themes are motifs of this web series are pretty well drawn out.
Sartaj is not sitting and listening idly in the meanwhile. He has already brought Katekar into the conversation and is trying to track down his caller. He reaches a roadside and finds a scrambler installed to set him off the path. What’s even better is that Gaitonde knows that Sartaj is trying to track him. He feels to me like an all knowing, all powerful God.
In fact, he even says that. He is God. Indestructible. Everywhere. This man has a huge superiority complex. This irritates Sartaj who threatens to hang up because he doesn’t have time for small time crooks. In retaliation, Gaitonde gives him a clue as to who he really is and hangs up.
Whoever that is, must be a big deal, because it triggers something in the RAW scanners. RAW starts listening to the call. We see Anjali (aka Radhika Apte) being interrupted from tracking down ISI activities to listen to this call.
Meanwhile, Sartaj and Katekar have a hunch that the caller is Gaitonde. Apparently, he’s wanted for 158 murders and has been missing and untracked for decades! They get to the Police HQ to check. Katekar suggests that Sartaj call Parulkar, but Sartaj is afraid that he will get shuffled off the case. This is his break and looks like he’s not going to waste it. They go through police files and they’re right! It is Gaitonde! Sacred Games is establishing high stakes right from the first episode of the first season.
Gaitonde now talks about the year 1977 when Mumbai was Bombay. He talks about growing up in the garbage dumps. As a child of a brahmin, he’s working at a pure vegetarian brahmin restaurant. The food is mixed with impure substances but everyone who works there is “pure” (read: Brahmin). This hypocrisy of caste is shown beautifully. Here Gaitonde gets into the drug trade and starts selling and doing something called Mandrake. He is beaten up for his lack of hygiene. But because he’s high, he feels nothing. And that’s when his God complex begins. He calls himself Ashwatthama - a character from the Mahabharata who was cursed to live forever, and was evil and conniving throughout the battle. This is also the theme of the first episode. Gaitonde will live forever in this story.
But it’s dangerous to screw Gaitonde over. Remember, this is the man who killed his mother in cold blood. He hides bones in the food, turning the “pure” establishment impure. And that’s when he wins over his restaurant owner boss and also realises the power of religion. Religion is a more potent drug than drugs themselves.
Gaitonde then starts rambling about philosophy. “Aham brahmasmi” he sighs while standing over a mandala symbol on the floor. This is the artwork of the show, so it must have some significance, but we aren’t told what it is just yet.
Picking up on the garbage dump comment, Sartaj tracks down a large garbage dump in BMC and finds the building where Gaitonde murdered the girl and is currently hiding. (This was a bit far fetched, but I guess it isn’t Bollywood till something ridiculous happens). Gaitonde can now see Sartaj outside. There is a PA and over the speaker, Sartaj tries to find out what is going to happen to Mumbai. Gaitonde tells him that the city will be destroyed along with everyone in it. The only person who will survive is Trivedi (who?!).
Gaitonde is in the mood to talk. It feels like he’s reliving his life because he thinks he’s reaching his end. He now talks about 1984 in Bombay, after the death of Indira Gandhi. There were 3 fathers in life that had a huge impact on him.
First - his biological father, who gave him fear (darr)
Second - Salim, who gave him daring
Third - A mystery father who he loved the most who gave him betrayal (dhoka)
He is now into gold smuggling with his friend Mathu from the brahmin restaurant. His boss, or second father, is Salim, a (literal) ball buster and asshole criminal. Once they learn the trade of smuggling, Gaitonde kills Salim (I’m not so shocked by this anymore) and takes over.
Side note: This building that Gaitonde is in doesn’t seem to have a door. This is weird because how did he get into the building in the first place? Anyway, because of this weird detail, Sartaj is breaking the wall down with a crane and a wrecking ball.
Back to the story, just as the wrecking ball is about to break through the wall, Gaitonde tells Sartaj that his third father introduced him to Dilbagh Singh. Sartaj is very curious about this and now the wall is broken, so he enters with his gun. Alone. Without backup. (Yes, yes. How will we know he’s the hero of the story otherwise. Cue eye roll.)
Sartaj walks past the dead girl and finds Gaitonde sitting on a big, luxurious chair without pants. The moment is here. They are face to face and both aiming guns at each other. And then as Sartaj moves closer, Gaitonde turns his revolver around and shoots himself in the head. HIs brain splatters on the wall behind him.
What?! This moment had me reeling in shock! Gaitonde is supposed to be the “unkillable” Ashwatthama. How can the main character die in the first episode? We have 8 more episodes to go…
Sartaj goes over to him, searching his pockets frantically for clues. He finds a Malaysian passport, perhaps a false identity that has allowed Gaitonde to evade the cops. Sartaj starts to turn around and then heard Gaitonde’s voice inside his head. He reaffirms that he will never die. I think Gaitonde is going to become Sartaj’s conscience and guide through whatever is coming next.
Katekar comes running in and sees the dead body. Sartaj turns to him and asks the same question that starts the show “Bhagwan ko maante ho?”
Why did Gaitonde kill himself? Will he stay dead? What is the connection between him and Dilbag Singh? Who is his third father? Why is religion so important in this story? What is happening to Mumbai in 25 days? The Games have only just begun...
I have so many questions! I need to start watching the next episodes ASAP. This show is off to a great start.
Episode Rating: 5/5