Sacred Games writer Varun Grover on that lynching scene, and if he would retain the Rajiv Gandhi line in hindsight

Varun Grover, the lead writer of Netflix’s Sacred Games, talks about how his conflicted world view informed some of the most controversial moments in the series, such as the lynching scene in the second season.
Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh in a scene from Sacred Games, as he looks on helplessly while a young man gets lynched by a mob.
Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh in a scene from Sacred Games, as he looks on helplessly while a young man gets lynched by a mob.
Updated on Aug 26, 2019 02:37 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRohan Naahar

Sacred Games lead writer Varun Grover has said that he was ‘quite prepared’ for the divisive reaction to the second season of the popular Netflix show, but not because ‘it is more ambitious and has more complex ideas’ than season one. Grover told Hindustan Times that because Sacred Games is a show and not a theatrical film, ‘it will survive on Netflix till the world ends’. He expects the apocalypse to arrive in around 2030-2035.

“People will keep on discovering it two years down the line or three years down the line,” he said, adding that he believes, “People who are finding it too complex now, if they go back to it - I hope they go back to it - they will see something more than just a complicated show.”

While critical response to the second season of Sacred Games has been positive, fan reaction has been mixed. Blame it on the high expectations or the narrative and stylistic changes, but several fans have expressed their disappointment with the new season on social media. Many of the detractors have brought up controversial scenes, most notably one that shows Saif Ali Khan’s Sartaj Singh flinging his ‘kada’ - an important religious symbol for Sikhs - into the sea, and another which shows a young Muslim man getting lynched by a Hindu gang.

 Watch an interview with Neeraj Ghaywan and Anurag Kashyap here.

Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan (although trolls have falsely attributed it to Anurag Kashyap), the scene is an unflinching look at some of the more timely and controversial realities about modern India. “It was part of the narrative, in a way,” Grover explained. In the show, the eldest son of the deceased constable Katekar is lured towards a life of crime by right-wing extremists, despite the warnings of Sartaj and his mother. His downward spiral ends with him taking part in a Muslim youth’s murder, while the audience and Sartaj are forced to watch.

“We wanted to show one narrative that ultimately makes Sartaj believe that the world is worth saving,” Grover said, alluding to the central thematic thrust of season two - the transformation of Sartaj from a passive character to a more active one. It is a strategy that Guruji, played by Pankaj Tripathi, also employs when he shows his followers the various crimes of humanity. “We just wanted to show one particular crime of humanity,” Grover said. “In showing Sartaj’s helplessness, in spite of being a cop, in spite of being part of a system that is supposed to protect us. It came from the idea that we have to highlight, and show, in stark reality, the world we are living in right now.” The intention, Grover continued, was not just to develop Sartaj’s character, but to also show the audience ‘that this world is damaged, beyond repair.’

Grover credited Ghaywan, with whom he made Masaan, for making the scene ‘look convincing, heartbreaking, and for generating anger and a sense of helplessness’ in the audience. Ghaywan did this with the help of research material that was given to him by Smita Nair, one of the research heads of season two, which provided him with insight about how a mob functions ‘and how a crime like that is executed’. The objective of the scene was always to make the viewer feel as if they are a bystander, and to instil in them a desire to step in and stop the violence.

Watch an interview with showrunner Vikramaditya Motwane and actor Kalki Koechlin.

This wouldn’t be the first time that the show has landed in controversy, though. A line of dialogue in season one, in which certain remarks were made against former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, resulted in legal action being taken against Netflix. In hindsight, would Varun change anything about the line, if given a second shot?

“I don’t think I would change anything in the show because everything is part of this fictional world we’ve created,” he said. Calling it the act of a fictional character, Grover said that ‘(characters) can say things which are ugly, which are stupid, whatever. It is that character’s burden. It is not my burden.”

Varun Grover attends the premiere screening of the first season of Sacred Games.
Varun Grover attends the premiere screening of the first season of Sacred Games.

As one of the writers of the show, Grover said that despite this ugliness, his faith in the world, and in people, fluctuates constantly. “Half the day I feel like (the world) should end, and then there’s another half of the day when I see some beautiful thing, like my cat, then I feel that there are still some things (worth fighting for).” He compared his conflicted feelings to the scene in which Sartaj has a vision where he sees the little things ‘that he feels are worth saving’.

And ‘even if people are not worth saving,’ Grover added, ‘there are those moments that live within us.’ He finished by attempting a sort of an explanation. “I am a very pessimistic person,” he said, “and at the same time I am a very optimistic person. I know it’s not a very healthy state of mind, but it’s the best that I can provide, and that’s what we wanted to do with the show. People should be conflicted about both the sides of the argument.”

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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