When any reference to Bofors is bound to be contentious in the current political context, it is a no-brainer that the dragging of Rajiv Gandhi’s name into the Netflix flick Sacred Games will stoke controversy. As the first original Indian Netflix series seeks to tell the story of a Mumbai gang leader’s rise, juxtaposing it to the history of modern India, a reference to Bofors may not be out of place, but it is obvious that calling Rajiv Gandhi as “Fattu” will not be liked by a sizeable section. A West Bengal Congressman has complained to Calcutta police seeking action against Netflix, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the producers of Sacred Games for ‘insulting’ the late PM. He claims the series misrepresents facts and crosses the ‘limits of decency’ as it abounds in profanity, including nudity, and violence, the staple diet of Netflix productions. It is unlikely that the complaint will achieve anything substantial. But it has helped in front lining the controversy, which most probably will help the six-part series become more popular with Indian audience, at least by way of curiosity if not as endorsement of the views expressed in it.
The story is said in a typical American style, but the narrative is somewhat tweaked to include a patently alien context. This deliberate disconnect is said to be behind the appeal of many of Netflix’s international series. In fact, critics have suggested that the deeper Hindu-Muslim divides alluded to in the series may be more understood by Indian audiences. Apart from the controversial forced sterilisations during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and Rajiv Gandhi’s alleged role in the Bofors scam, Sacred Games also features the former PM’s involvement in the Shah Bano case with its notoriously misdirected appeasement angle as well as the telecast of the Ramayana serial as an intended counter move. In short, it has all the ingredients for mischief, given the surreal political context of its timing. There have even been allegations of BJP-RSS hand in the inclusion of contentious references, although there is little by way of credible pieces of information to hold such a view.
The graphic imagery and explicit dialogues that could cause revulsion, depiction of nudity and references to controversial political and religious events and other techniques employed by the producers would appear to be distasteful to the average Indian audience. Obviously, as it is not made in the Bollywood milieu, the producers have enjoyed a certain freedom unavailable to Indian production houses. Released in nearly 200 countries and close to 130 million subscribers, the crime thriller is reported to have received enthusiastic response. And that is what matters most to the producers and all those who are associated with it.