Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games, on his top book-to-screen adaptions
The bestselling novel about Mumbai’s crime-riddled underbelly is now streaming on Netflix
In his 2012 collection of essays, How To Read A Novelist, noted American writer and literary critic John Freeman called Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games “a terrific, brilliant, earth mover of a book, Crime And Punishment crossed with The Godfather, with some Sopranos-style irony thrown in to boot.” More than 10 years later, Chandra’s most famous work, which Freeman called “one of the Booker Prize’s most glaring omissions in its 40-year history”, is about to get some serious pop-culture muscle thrown behind it, as it becomes streaming giant Netflix’s first Indian production.
Set to release today, it stars Saif Ali Khan in the lead role, as inspector Sartaj Singh, across from key antagonist Ganesh Gaitonde, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Singh, a down-on-his-luck cop facing a career slump and imminent divorce, first made his appearance in Chandra’s Love And Longing In Bombay, and the story began to develop in Chandra’s mind, growing until he felt he could no longer contain it within an existing collection.
He thought it may develop into a novella, but the constantly evolving characters had other plans, and the masterful organised crime novel that inspired so many others, was born. With high expectations pinned on the web series, we spoke to the author about some of his own favourite book-to-screen adaptations.
Based on Black Friday: The True Story Of The Bombay Bomb Blasts by S. Hussain Zaidi
“I loved what Anurag did with this book. The film is fantastic, dark, thrilling, violent and well made.”
Based on A Flight Of Pigeons by Ruskin Bond
“A powerful feature driven by Naseeruddin Shah’s extraordinary acting. It’s the story of ordinary people caught up in a war much larger than them.”
Based on Macbeth and Othello, by William Shakespeare
“Saif [Ali Khan] was incredible [in Omkara]. What impressed me was how both movies were so skilfully adapted and translated by Vishal for the Indian landscape.”
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Ondaatje
“Ondaatje’s works don’t lend themselves to easy adaptation. But the film was astonishing, especially in its structure. And Naveen Andrews’s role is one of the only portrayals of Indian soldiers in the world wars that I can think of.”
Based on the book of the same name by James Ellroy
“It has all the elements that make Los Angeles what it is…dirty cops, gangsters, the entertainment industry, the sliminess and gossip. It’s a complex story, bolstered by outstanding performances.”
Based on Emma by Jane Austen
“Who reads a literature classic, and thinks, ‘Let me adapt it to a Beverly Hills high school’? It’s a genius comedy of manners.”
Based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton
“It’s all about surfaces, and what lies just beneath. At eye-level, everything is perfect. But below, it’s a frenzy. The chess game of a plot keeps you in suspense.”