A peek into the criminal underbelly of a major city, a touch of magical realism, and an antihero destined to die. This is where the similarities between two of Netflix’s major productions, Narcos and Sacred Games, begin and seemingly end. And yet, the comparisons continue, at least by the New York Times, and a few other publications from the US.
While Narcos (at least in season one and two) chronicled the life of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar — the series that tried to convince viewers of its almost biographical quality took quite a few creative liberties — Sacred Games is an adaptation of a fictional tome of the same name.
In Narcos, most viewers begin with the knowledge that Escobar would die in the end, because, history. In Sacred Games, however, the first episode ends with the death of gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Unlike Narcos, however, the end of this story is something the viewers don’t know (unless they’ve read Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel).
Here's looking at you, kid. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ganesh Gaitonde in Sacred Games. (Photo: Screengrab/Netflix)
So, can Narcos and Sacred Games be called similar?
Well, the vice presidents of original content in Netflix, Kelly Luegenbiehl and Erik Barmack, seem to feel so. When asked “How hard was it to get talent from Bollywood onboard for a web series?” in a Quartz interview, Barmack said: “They’re seeing Narcos travel from Colombia to Mumbai, and shows like Dark from Germany travel to Latin America. So they’re also interested in being part of this global TV…”
In another sense, perhaps, the sheer scale of the two mini-series can be compared, as can their success. Both received critical acclaim. Both found popularity among an international audience and both, perhaps, have been immortalised in the transience of popular culture. But, in that respect, one can easily compare Sacred Games to just about any popular show.
If one chooses to look at antiheroes in TV, the Walter Whites (Breaking Bad), the Stinger Bells (The Wire) and many more can find themselves comparable to Ganesh Gaitonde of Sacred Games, the man who rose to power in Mumbai’s underworld, finally being lured into the Venus flytrap of his own undoing, in this case, perhaps, religious superiority. If one chooses to compare the cynicism and dark humour, then what better than a Coen Brothers film to compare it with.
And if one wishes to look at the apocalyptic nature of the plot — the deadline of 25 days until a supposed Armageddon — then look no further than potboilers penned by Dan Brown, especially Inferno.
If you look back enough, you might just even be able to trace the show’s plot points, characters or structure to mythology, ours or that of others.
Escobar, bar bar? Those comparing are likening Sacred Games to Narcos. (Photo: Screengrab/Netflix)
Rules of drama, set standards of structuring, and reducing a show, a book, a film or a play to just one thing have compelled us to compare and analyse in vain over what may have taken leaps of inspiration where.
There is also the question of why such a comparison, even if wholly unnecessary, exists.
Does a story need to be original to overpower us? To captivate our imagination? Not at all. Countless versions of Jesus Christ's ressurection exist, whether it is Anakin in Star Wars, or Neo in The Matrix or Superman; the viewer rarely cares for the allegory.
And what really is an original story? If Christopher Booker's 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots is to be taken into account, then all stories are just a version, or a mixture or a mixture of versions of just the seven plot devices we have. If that is the case, then there really is no original story, is there?
How can one still say Sacred Games is like the Indian Narcos?
Only with a shallow imagination and a limited rendezvous with popular culture.