- Team SWA
- 12 August 2019
The threat gets bigger in Season 2!
SWA Exclusive interview with screenwriter Pooja Tolani; one of the writers of Netflix's series Sacred Games (Season 2)
Sacred Games, the very first original Indian web series by Netflix based on Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel of the same name, was very well received by the audience when it released in July 2018. The show, directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, became known mainly for its intricate narrative, thematic commentary and performances, and went on to command a cult following. The same is evident in the fact that social media is flooded with several memes page devoted to the characters, dialogue and storytelling of the show.
The release of the second season of Sacred Games is around the corner and the anticipation has hit the roof. While Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath wrote the first season; the writing team for the season two has Nihit Bhave, Dhruv Narang and Pooja Tolani along with Grover continuing as the head writer. The Screenwriters Association spoke to Pooja Tolani, who has been an ex-Executive Committee member with SWA, about her experience of writing the show. Tolani is a trained Screenwriter having studied the same at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (Pune) and has earlier been associated with feature films like Wedding Pullav (2015).
Here’re the excerpts from the interview:
How did you become a part of the writing team of Sacred Games 2?
In early 2018, Tulsea introduced me to Varun Grover who is leading the writers' room in Season 2. We met a couple of times and discussed what he had in mind for the second season, he read some of my previous work and then I was on the project.
What exactly has been your contribution to the show - in terms of number of episodes with story, screenplay and dialogue? What kind of research you had to do to write the show?
All four of us (Varun Grover, Nihit Bhave, Dhruv Narang and I) have together adapted the season story from Vikram Chandra's novel. And we have each written two episodes. Research was mostly for getting a better understanding of the world we were exploring, so that people and words ring true. Our research consultant Smita Nair was great help. She arranged meetings with police officers, scholars and some other experts. She read our drafts and answered our many, many questions regarding protocol and plausibility. And fought with us when we were sometimes tempted to choose drama over the two!
How was your experience writing it? Share one thing that you learnt from this project - about the medium, or the format, or the overall craft of screenwriting.
About the medium, I think I learnt how elastic it is. When you watch shows you are of course theoretically aware that in comparison to a feature length narrative the format allows you more room to move and cast the net wider on themes, structure etc. I don't think one is better than the other. They are two very different experiences. But my biggest takeaway from this project was the experience of collaboration. In general the boundary of the kind of subjects one can explore is being pushed because of ease of broadcast and less censorship etc. But I think another big reason for that is the practice of setting up writers' rooms. It opens up the possibilities of some seriously off-centre collaboration. The same idea can find such varied expressions in a room. You feed off each other's sensibilities and sometimes arrive at something none of you could have created if you were writing alone. It works if the chemistry is right, of course. Some experiments do result in explosion.
In what way is the second season different from the first one?
The story escalates and many questions raised in the first season are answered, obviously. The second season opens up the themes that were mounted in the first season - those of faith and pain and the relationship between the two. As Sartaj and company investigate further, they find a much more menacing presence behind Gaitonde's warning. Stopping the destruction seems possible only with a miracle. The core conflict becomes larger as the narrative progresses, but it also gets intensely personal.
According to you, what is so special about the writing of this show that makes it stand out?
Whether it is special or not is for the audience to decide. :)
What was the process of the Writers Room for the show?
We started with getting the wild ideas out of our system. The first few weeks we just talked about the various directions we could take the show in (but mostly we talked about what to order for lunch!). We then started putting down character arcs, alternate narrative ideas and so on. We created separate files for everything on a drive and each one of us kept adding to it, freestyle. A lot of discussion happened at every stage. Vikram would give his inputs once every few weeks. And then, all the material that all of us had written was structured and developed into episode outlines by Varun. After that we started writing our respective screenplays.
Season one was directed by two directors, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, who filmed the tracks for Nawaz and Saif respectively. Was it the same with season 2, AND does such an approach change anything for the writers?
Anurag Kashyap has directed Ganesh Gaitonde's track this time too. But Sartaj Singh's track has been directed by Neeraj Ghaywan. Vikramaditya Motwane is the showrunner. I don't think it changes anything for the writers. You write how the story needs to be written. Probably the reason why they decided that two directors should shoot the two tracks in Season 1, is because it was written in a way which required two starkly different treatments. (And of course because of the sheer volume. It's practically four films.)
In a show like this how does the creative dynamics work between the broadcaster, producers, directors, writers and the author?
Well, according to conventional protocol there is a hierarchical chain of approvals, Netflix being the final stop. But this has been the most collaborative professional experience yet, for me. Through the filming and editing, everyone in the team remained receptive and open to the writers' inputs.
What are the other projects you’re working on?
I am working on other projects, but it's too soon to talk about it...
How do you define the kind of screenwriter you are?
I don't know... the hungry kind?