Binge-r #97: Sacred Games + Detectorists + Tickled
SACRED GAMES S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
When Netflix began to launch in Europe and Asia in 2014 it wasn’t difficult to imagine that it would create an international audience weaned onto American series. But almost from the start, whether through viewer demand or in some cases government regulation, it’s also produced or purchased local content that has generated interest with English-language audiences. Whether it’s Babylon Berlin [full review here] or Dark [full review here] from Germany, Norway’s Nobel [full review here] or Brazil’s 3% [full review here], there’s now a plethora of shows that highlight international storytelling.
A crime thriller set in Mumbai, Sacred Games is Netflix’s first original series from India. Drawing on filmmakers and actors from the country’s vast film industry, this adaption of Vikram Chandra’s vast 2006 novel is a ticking clock investigation that paints a vivid picture of a sprawling city that only makes sense when you understand how its political and criminal history are often deeply intertwined. The first time Inspector Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is at physical risk is when he’s attacked by his Hindu colleagues for not backing up their official cover-up of how a young Muslim suspect was gunned down, and the Sikh officer has the full range of brooding hero attributes, including a disdain for official corruption and a wife who left him for a wealthier man.
“He plays lawn tennis,” Sartaj laments to his wise but less than diligent offsider, Constable Katekar (Jitendra Joshi), and it’s obvious that’s an unheard of privilege in this teeming metropolis. It’s these cultural notes, whether subtle or garish, that illuminate what is a swift and violent narrative that’s kick-started by Sartaj being called by Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a Keyser Soze-like mastermind missing for 15 years. “Sometimes I think my life is magic,” says Ganesh, who has a God complex and a suitably matching style of monologues. The crime lord’s promise that Mumbai will be destroyed in 25 days sets Sartaj off on an unofficial investigation, running parallel with one run by an intelligence services analyst, Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte).
Sacred Games is uneven, although the plotting rarely pauses to allow for contemplation. I preferred the sequences that make use of local context, such as Ganesh’s extended history of his life in crime, which begin in his childhood and have a period grain and a heightened energy that suggest a wild-eyed Bollywood version of Scarface. Gold smuggling, the “garbage mafia” and party politics are his stepping stones, and Ganesh’s world-weary narration has an unreliable edge that adds to the intrigue (another less promising source of confusion: the subtitles are little more than a bad draft). If you need a police procedural jolt, or are intrigued by the milieu, the series is worth considering. If not, consider it the first step towards an eventual breakthrough.
In Brief: Detectorists S1 + S2 (Netflix): For a change of pace consider this affectionately askew British comedy about a pair of unfulfilled friends – Andy (The Office’s Mackenzie Cook, the creator of the series) and Lance (Toby Jones) – whose search for satisfaction is mirrored by their defining hobby of scouring Essex paddocks with metal detectors. So mutually familiar that they spoil each other’s punchlines, a disruptive humour that becomes astutely funny in the lead’s expert care, the duo are sketched with loving detail as they squander personal chances and find themselves on distinctly English misadventures through the machinations of the Danebury Metal Detector Club. Shorn of extraneous sounds, the half dozen episodes in the two seasons currently available are small but ruefully charming. It’s a great little find.
>> Other Reading: If I haven’t persuaded you to check out Counterpart on SBS on Demand, let me try again with a piece I wrote on the science-fiction espionage thriller for The Monthly [full review here].
Tickled (Netflix, 2016, 91 minutes): A minor offbeat news tip – there’s a sport happening in Los Angeles called Competitive Endurance Tickling – that becomes a quest to solve an online conspiracy and confront a menacing, cloaked figure, Tickled is a compelling documentary that couldn’t be made up. Directors David Farrier, the journalist who originally bit, and Dylan Reeve make the most of their unassuming New Zealand outlook, greeting adversarial American legal delegations at Auckland airport and talking about “a bunch of bullies” in a manner that will be familiar to fans of Flight of the Conchords. The scene they uncover, where young men are well paid to endure tickling sessions but viciously harassed if they break with the unknown overseer, opens up questions of online privacy, exploitation of poverty, and the uncertain line between valid fetish play and entrapment. The mostly handheld footage only briefly explores those possibilities, but the story’s spine is so magnetic that you’re held tight until the quiet but conclusive finale.
Also New on Netflix: An apocalyptic bro comedy for the Judd Apatow era, This is the End (2013, 106 minutes) lets Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jonah Hill play themselves in a disaster movie. Best survivor: Emma Watson; now looking prescient, Martin Scorsese’s black comic The King of Comedy (1983, 108 minutes) is a study of delusion and celebrity with an anti-magnet cast of Robert De Niro, Sandra Bernhard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
New on SBS on Demand: In the House (2013, 101 minutes) finds the prolific and inventive French filmmaker Francois Ozon mixing artful comedy with domestic thriller, as a teacher reads his star pupil’s essays about subverting a school friend’s family; a deft coming of age tale (and literature lad’s bittersweet fantasy) 5 to 7 (2016, 93 minutes) stars the late Anton Yelchin as a budding writer educated in the ways of the world by Berenice Marlohe’s married sophisticate.
New on Stan: Che: Part One (2008, 129 minutes) and Che: Part Two 2008, 130 minutes) nearly destroyed Steven Soderbergh. He’s attempted nothing so ambitious since, but this pair of period dramas about the rise and fall of Argentinean revolutionary and Cuban hero Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara are a radical attack on the conventional biopic, bearing down on guerilla logistics and capturing illustrative times instead of doling out a life’s highlights.
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