First Netflix original in India will be crime drama 'Sacred Games'

Netflix's first original production in India will be an adaptation of 'Sacred Games,' a 2006 novel set in Mumbai's criminal underworld, it announced Monday.

Mike Blake/Reuters
The streaming service Netflix announced Monday that its first original production in India will be an adaptation of the 2006 novel "Sacred Games" by Vikram Chandra.

Only six months after it launched in India, Netflix is producing its first original series in the country, part of an increasing push toward local productions that could help the streaming giant further expand its footprint across the globe.

The series, an adaptation of the 2006 best-seller "Sacred Games," by Vikram Chandra, will be shot on location in India and produced by Phantom Films, a local production company, Netflix announced on Monday. Mr. Chandra's novel, a sprawling thriller set in Mumbai’s criminal underworld, focuses on a Sikh police detective’s pursuit of India’s "most wanted gangster."

After it expanded to more than 130 new countries, including India, in January, Netflix now says it has 81 million customers across 190 countries. With so many users, the streaming service is often noted for its ability to closely track what users watch – down to even which episodes of a series get a viewer hooked – and make adjustments accordingly.

By selecting a crime drama as its first Indian production, just after "Marseille," a political thriller, became its first original show in France, the streaming giant is also embracing a more traditional approach, focusing on genres that could appeal to audiences across the world.

"Over the last few years, I've watched with great excitement and pleasure as Netflix has transformed narrative television with its ground-breaking, genre-bending shows," Chandra said in a statement. "I'm confident that all the color and vitality and music of the fictional world I've lived with for so long will come fully alive on the large-scale canvas provided by Netflix."

So far, Netflix's strategy hasn't proved as popular with critics. Despite boasting the presence of the French star Gerard Depardieu, "Marseille" has received mostly scathing reviews in Europe and the US.

Referencing a line from the film "Pulp Fiction" about how quarter-pounders are marketed in France, The New York Times wrote of the show, "It is royale-y cheesy proof that the most risible clichés of dark American cable and streaming drama can be exported as easily as fast food."

"Netflix offers the series with English dubbing or subtitles. Neither renders the writing any more original," wrote James Poniewozik for The New York Times, comparing it unfavorably to a slew of American shows, including Netflix's own "House of Cards," which is based on a British series and has become popular around the world, particularly in China.

A review in France's Le Monde was even harsher, describing the show as "an industrial accident," while critic Pierre Langlais at Telerama noted that the show was "undoubtedly [Netflix's] first in-house dud," Variety reports.

But some Netflix projects that received a critical drubbing have proved popular with audiences.

"The Ridiculous 6," a Western comedy starring Adam Sandler was faced with a boycott by Native American actors who worked on the film and gained an unusual 0 percent rating on the review-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes when it was released in December. But only a month after its release, Netflix announced it had been viewed more times in 30 days than any other film in the streaming site's history.

"Part of what’s been fascinating for us is that the 60 markets we've been in, the content that succeeds tends to be somewhat consistent," Elizabeth Bradley, Netflix's vice president of content acquisition told Wired in January. "We tend to find it's not like one set of titles does well in America and not overseas.... We think we can tell global stories that will resonate the same."

"Narcos," another Netflix-produced original show may have gained further appeal outside the US because nearly 80 percent of its dialogue is in Spanish, Wired reports.

But will "Sacred Games," enjoy similar success in India and beyond? While crime dramas are often steeped in gritty local culture and dialogue, they appear to translate well. Martin's Scorsese's "The Departed," fused the twists and turns of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs," with a fictionalized version of the story of real-life Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, winning an Oscar for Best Picture in 2006.

Several Bollywood films have also taken inspiration from American film noir, including the 2007 movie "Manorama Six Feet Under," which borrows its plot from the 1974 film "Chinatown," directed by Roman Polanski.

Chandra, the novelist, noted those connections in an Amazon interview, discussing the use of local slang in "Sacred Games." "I wanted to use the English that we actually speak in India, the language that I would use to tell this story if I were sitting in a bar in Mumbai talking to a friend.... We would share a universe of cultural referents and facts that a reader from another country wouldn't recognize instantly," he said.

"But the context tells you something about what is being referred to, and there is a distinct delight in discovering a new world and figuring out its nuances," he added. "It's one of the reasons I read books from other cultures and places, and I hope American readers will share in this pleasure."

Netflix hasn't yet announced a release date for the show, but it's expected to made available to viewers in all 190 countries.

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