Are you done with all eight episodes of Sacred Games 2 already? Great! Are you looking for other TV shows that are similar to the Netflix Indian series? Congratulations, you’ve come to the right place. Well to be fair, there are no shows that are quite like Sacred Games, since it’s local in its flavour. That’s why we have cherry-picked a select few series from all over the world, including one from India, that give you a portrait of their setting at a specific point in time — from post-war England to present-day Germany — just like Sacred Games does for Mumbai. And they feature a variety of interesting characters that have some engaging journeys in store for them, as with Sartaj (Saif Ali Khan) and Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). If that sounds promising and intriguing, here are seven shows worth a shot, if you’re a fan of Sacred Games.
In the words of creator-writer Steven Knight, this British BAFTA-winning series is the story of a family between the two World Wars, in this case the Shelbys that are based in Birmingham, England. It centres on the gang leader Tommy (Cillian Murphy), a decorated and disillusioned WWI veteran suffering from PTSD, the treasurer Polly (Helen McCrory), his aunt who led the organisation during the war, his older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) who also suffers from PTSD, and the only sister Ada (Sophie Rundle), who has no involvement with the Peaky Blinders gang at the start of the series.
A slow-burn at first, Peaky Blinders has been praised for its period detail. And it’s as bloody and brutal as they come. Beginning in 1919 just after WWI, the BBC drama has gone through seven years in its first four seasons, and Knight expects another three seasons to wrap up the story before WWII begins for the UK in June 1940. The fifth season begins later this month on BBC.
And oh, Tom Hardy had a role for three seasons on Peaky Blinders. What more do you need?
Gomorrah / Tata Sky
Not to be confused with the critically-acclaimed 2008 film of the same name, which is based on the same book by Roberto Saviano but is otherwise unrelated, this Italian series — created by Saviano himself — is the story of the Camorra crime syndicate that operates out of the suburbs of Naples, Italy. Though it’s been praised for its writing, directing, acting, and pacing, it’s also been criticised by Italian politicians for humanising gangsters, with the Naples mayor going so far to claim that violent crime spikes in Naples after every new episode.
Gomorrah is primarily centred on the Savastano clan, which includes the patriarch Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino), his son Genny (Salvatore Esposito) who starts off as a socialite, clan member Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore) who’s trying to climb the criminal ladder, and Pietro’s wife Immacolata (Maria Pia Calzone), who wants to succeed her husband as the chief. Across its run, it introduces ambitious drug dealer Annalisa Magliocca (Cristina Donadio), Savastano associate Patrizia Santore (Cristiana Dell’Anna), and Rome rival Giuseppe Avitabile (Gianfranco Gallo).
Tata Sky currently has rights to three of the four seasons. You’ll naturally need an active TV subscription to watch it on the Tata Sky app.
The Deuce / Hotstar
Here’s a simple sell for The Deuce: James Franco plays twins Vincent and Frankie Martino, who — willingly or unwillingly — work as fronts for the Italian-American Mafia in New York City. Not convinced? The HBO series is from the minds of one of the greatest shows of all time, The Wire: creator David Simon and writer George Pelecanos. What’s it about? It’s the story of Golden Age of Porn in the US, when pornography began to be taken seriously by cinema, critics, and the public — partly thanks to its legalisation.
In addition to the aforementioned twins, The Deuce also features Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a sex worker who spots an opportunity in the emerging pornographic industry, Martino’s brother-in-law Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer), a construction foreman who ventures into the brothel business, New York Police patrolman Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) who uncovers corruption, college student Abby (Margarita Levieva) who ditches her high-family status to help sex workers, and several other sex workers and pimps who work in New York’s Times Square.
As you can expect from Simon — who explored Baltimore’s problems in The Wire — The Deuce uses its porn-lens to touch upon the various facets of New York City in the 1970s. A third and final season premieres next month, so this is the best time to jump in.
Mirzapur / Amazon Prime Video
It feels weird to name-check a series that comes across as a Gangs of Wasseypur rip-off at first — Sacred Games director Anurag Kashyap co-wrote and directed the film — but this Amazon series is the closest modern Indian equivalent. What it lacks in nuance and character consistency, Mirzapur makes up for with black comedy largely stemming from unrelenting blood and gore, with an additional sprinkling of female characters exposing the misogyny and hypocrisy of its powerful male ones.
Set in the impoverished and crime-infested rural interiors of India’s most populated state, Uttar Pradesh, Mirzapur centres on the de facto ruling crime family, led by one Akhandanand “Kaleen Bhaiya” Tripathi (Pankaj Tripathi). Realising that his son and business heir Munna (Divyendu Sharma) is immature and unreliable, Kaleen Bhaiya turns to two ambitious sons — Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Bablu (Vikrant Massey) — of an upstanding lawyer (Rajesh Tailang).
Mirzapur debuted last year on Prime Video, and a second season is currently in production.
La Reina del Sur / Netflix
Before Mexican-American actress Kate del Castillo got involved with real-life drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, she played a drug kingpin herself in this Spanish-language series, who goes from being a nobody in Mexico to the biggest drug trafficker in Spain. (For those unaware, del Castillo facilitated a visit between Sean Penn and El Chapo that made headlines, hurt her career and prevented her from going home for three years.)
At the start of La Reina del Sur — that’s Queen of the South in Spanish — Teresa (del Castillo) is a naive woman in love with a pilot who works for the Mexican cartels. But after her boyfriend is killed, she goes on the run to save her life, making her way to Spain to begin anew. There, events lead her to become a drug smuggler, which becomes an intercontinental business and gains her the nickname “La Mexicana”.
It’s a telenovela — the Latin American version of a soap opera — which means there’s a lot more episodes than there should be, so keep your expectations in check. If you get through 63 episodes of the first season, there’s 60 more coming Friday as part of second season, which takes place eight years later.
Boardwalk Empire / Hotstar
Steve Buscemi won much acclaim for his five-season portrayal of Nucky Thompson, a local political figure in Atlantic City, New Jersey USA who played both sides of the law — mobsters and other politicians — to boost his profile, during the Prohibition era of 1920s and early 1930s when alcohol was banned throughout the country. Naturally, Nucky’s lavish lifestyle attracts the interest of the government, who start to dig into the bootlegging that’s happening in his area. The HBO series was known for bringing in real-life historical characters or those modelled on them.
Boardwalk Empire primarily focused on Nucky, his mistress Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), Prohibtion agent-turned-bootlegger Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), Nucky’s younger brother Eli (Shea Whigham), Chicago gangster Al Capone (Stephen Graham) — yes, the very — father of US organised crime Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Atlantic City gangster Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), bootlegger Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks), and Nucky’s long-time friend Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol).
Routinely praised for its ensemble’s acting and period detail, Boardwalk Empire is the kind of gangster drama you expect from an alum of The Sopranos in creator-writer Terence Winter.
Set in the Berlin borough of Neukölln, this award-winning German series follows Toni (Kida Khodr Ramadan), the leader of the Lebanese Hamady crime family who has been in the business for two decades. He wants to leave it behind for a normal, conflict-free life with his family and become a legitimate businessman, but things go awry after his brother-in-law Latif (Massiv) is arrested in a police raid with nine kilos of cocaine in the trunk of his car.
Not wanting to let his younger, unpredictable brother Abbas (Veysel Gelin) take the reins, Toni begrudgingly continues the family business and confides in his childhood friend Vince (Frederick Lau), in order to help with matters. This naturally doesn’t go down well with Abbas. But little does Toni know that he has another problem on his hands: Vince is an undercover police agent.
4 Blocks is a story about family, friendship, crime, betrayal through the viewpoint of Arab immigrants in Germany. Two seasons have aired and a third is in production.
Narcos / Netflix
You had to know this was going to be on this list, so we figured we would keep the obvious one for the end. As the title goes, Narcos is the story of Colombia’s drug cartels, which have historically been one of the biggest and most powerful. Playing as part-historical documentary and part-drama, the first two seasons delve into the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) as the leader of the Medellín Cartel, which expanded beyond drugs into bombing and terrorism. The third season shifts focus to the Cali Cartel, which benefited from the vacuum created by Escobar’s death. (Wait, spoiler alert?)
Narcos’ gateway into the world are the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents — Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) among them — who are trying to bring down these cartels that supply most of the cocaine flowing into the US. (Also, it’s known that Americans don’t watch anything if it doesn’t have an American protagonist.) Narcos was rough around the edges in its first season, but it got its teeth into it thereafter.
And if you’ve already explored the wonders of Narcos, Netflix has a companion piece to offer in Narcos: Mexico, which shifts the focus slightly north, as you can tell. Diego Luna and Michael Peña play drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and DEA agent Kiki Camarena, respectively, in the first season. A second season of Narcos: Mexico is in development.
Not happy with the lack of Indian choices? That’s why we have this section. While India is still new to the series business, the country’s film industry has a long history of making gangster dramas. Bollywood was fascinated with the underworld during the ‘80s and ‘90s, with mobsters going so far as to even produce films, reportedly.
Of the dozens that have been made over the years, here are some that worth a shot: Gangs of Wasseypur (Prime Video), Satya (JioCinema), Company (Netflix), Maqbool (Hotstar), Black Friday (YuppTV), Nayakan (Prime Video), and Vada Chennai (Hotstar).