Sacred Games 2: Saif Ali Khan On the Call He Got From Aamir Khan

Interview: Saif Ali Khan and filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan on Netflix India’s Sacred Games 2.

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Season two of Netflix India’s popular series Sacred Games drops online on 15 August. The new season promises to be bigger and better with Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde returning along with Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey and Pankaj Tripathi (who we saw a bit of in S1). This time round, while Anurag Kashyap continues to shoot the track involving Gaitonde, Masaan’s director, Neeraj Ghaywan, has stepped in to direct Sartaj Singh’s track, while Vikramaditya Motwane has become the showrunner of the series.

I got an opportunity to chat with Saif Ali Khan and Neeraj Ghaywan on the sets of the show in January, while they were wrapping up their schedule on Sacred Games 2.

Q: Hi Saif, hi Neeraj, welcome to The Quint. Saif, I’ll start off by asking you. How has the overall reaction been to Sacred Games? I want to hear both the good and the bad, probably the most memorable feedback or reaction you got?

Saif: I haven’t heard anything bad, I’ve heard only good things and I remember I was on a holiday when all the reviews came out and I was a bit nervous and everyone liked the fact that it was approached differently and it wasn’t either a Bollywood-isation of the material whatever that means but it was an international take on it. When Phantom, Vikramaditya, Anurag and all the writers and all stepped up to the plain, they delivered, they delivered a different tone and people appreciated that. So, it’s difficult to recognise changes when they are actually happening under your feet and there have been seismic changes in entertainment and this was right up there and so I think we caught the wave at the right time but importantly the material which we chose to represent ourselves with was absolutely top notch from the original book to the way its been adapted and the way its been shot and acted and written and the works. I mean this is the most intelligent and sharpest and most creative piece of film I’ve been involved in in my life so far. And I am very proud to be here every day.

Q: Any memorable reaction that you got from the industry, that’s on top of your head?

Neeraj: The one with Aamir Khan...

Saif: Well, yes! You know Aamir Khan sent me a text and he is someone whose opinion I respect and whose mind I admire when it comes to movies, and he said I want to talk to you so you know I called him back and he said, listen who’s this Trivedi guy, is he dead, what happened and he had all these questions which I couldn’t answer. I remember Varun Dhawan was all praises for the show and rang up. A lot of people rang up, so that was nice. But even  more important was the fact that we were representing our country on a global level and the kind of reviewers that write about it don’t normally review the films we do. They were testing and watching us whether we can hold on our own on that platform and I think we did and that is a huge achievement for the technical team and everyone behind the camera as well as all the actors, who’ve done such a phenomenal job.

Q: At a Netflix event it was revealed that 2 out of 3 watchers of Sacred Games was from outside India, did you get any vibes from people when you were abroad about the show?

Saif: You know it’s one of those things, earlier people used to be try and be nice about our cinema and they’d say Slumdog Millionaire is a great movie and I’d say yeah, but it’s not an Indian movie, it’s just set in India. So this is almost the first piece after a long time of film that I’ve heard discuss internationally by people. It’s kind of put us on the map in a nice way.

Q: Neeraj, I can’t start without asking you this question, everyone was looking forward to your next film after Masaan, which was in 2015 and it was announced that you are a part of Sacred Games now and all your fans and everyone who loved Masaan was like yay! How do you feel being a part of the Sacred Games team now?

Neeraj: I had a lot of apprehensions because it’s been some time since I have not come up with a second film. So I was living under that huge pressure of not having done the second film but this came along and I can’t tell you how charged I am to do this and I feel like everything is so right for me, like both my mentors Vikram and Anurag being there, who were my producers on Masaan, they happen to be the same team. And now from being mentors they’ve become, Anurag is like a co-director now with me and it feel so great and Varun being the head writer, I’ve collaborated with him for so long, and all the writers, everyone, so it just feels like a great family. I’ve never been so charged to come on a set and you know, let’s do this and feel excited about it.

Saif: Can I please interrupt? I suddenly had this realisation, a few days ago actually that films like Masaan, while being amazing films, I don’t know about the audience in India and how they take it in terms of box-office and numbers so there is always that difference but there’s this space you know with Netflix and some premium platforms where directors of this calibre can really shine and they’ve got an opportunity and we all have an opportunity where we can do something that’s really commercial, really watchable and digested by a lot of people but it’s also the cleverest, coolest piece of art that you could ever make. So I hope he makes more and I can be in them, and a lot of directors who think, what is my next film going to be and what’s the market into and do I sell out and should I put some songs and have an item girl in my movie can rest assured and just work in this environment which is such a super cool environment right?

Neeraj: Actually, it’s very true. For me it’s a huge leap in terms of visual language, in terms of the kind of stories I say so for me that has been like a huge challenge at the same time a very exciting challenge. Since it’s so challenging I find it like a thing to do, like get up and try to find how to do this. So I am very kicked about that.

Q: You are directing the Sartaj Singh track and you are taking over from what Vikramaditya was doing for season 1. What sort of tips did he leave you with, especially did he have any tips on how to handle Saif?

Neeraj: In fact it was the ulta, he said he has so much fun on the sets, it’s so difficult for yourself to keep your nervous energy intact and that happened because he’s a delight to work with. Sometimes I start missing him when we don’t have his scenes. It’s like can we go back to shooting with Sartaj?

Saif: It’s just that with some people we get along instantly and Neeraj and I got along instantly, such a good leader, yeah it’s a nice easy atmosphere even though sometimes people are like - we have to take this very seriously and we take ourselves very seriously, which is nice but a bit boring.

Q: Sacred Games ran into a bit of a controversy last year and  there was this whole talk of censoring content over the net, that the government would probably oversee what’s going on but recently Netflix signed on to a code of self regulation...

Saif: It’s a really scary statement - the government will oversee what’s going on...

Q: Do you think that’s a much more saner way forward, self regulation instead of censorship.

Saif: Whatever keeps the show running.

Neeraj: Self regulation is coming in everywhere, I see writers, they talk, and they already say maybe this won’t fly with the CBFC so let’s cut it down. So it’s already happening in a way and about Netflix doing it, I am not aware because I’ve been pretty engrossed with my work. But I see that happening everywhere in terms of actors, directors, writers everybody thinking like that.

Saif: Well, there is freedom in the platform. You’re doing the most clever, the most intelligent work, it’s at the cutting edge of film in terms of ideas and honest and writing, so just because it’s free we also don’t think about getting over excited about sex or bad language or anything, so we are cautious about that and responsible, I think we’re very responsible. But one hears noises about people just wanting to... I hope it’s just an election noise where people say they just want to ban it just because of certain ideas and only religious shows should run, so I hope we don’t end up in that kind of environment.

Q: I’ve been asked to wrap up but I want to ask you how is life without a thumb?

Saif: You know I almost know, almost very very difficult because my real thumb that’s under here I nearly lost while shooting for another film, I had an accident with a gun and I almost obliterated it and a great doctor Dr Kazi saved it but I could not bend it, so it’s a very damaged thumb. But I can still hold glasses which is key and button up shirts and do up trousers and things like that because opposable thumbs as you know is what sets us apart from animals. Yeah, you cannot button up a shirt man, let alone tie up a turban and I don’t know how Sartaj ties a turban, very clever guy.

Thanks a lot for talking to us and all the best for season 2.

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