Crackdown Voot Series Review: Inconsistent spy thriller with kick-ass action and sincere performances
Rhea Srivastava -
Platform : Voot Format : Web Series Movie Rated : 16+ Genre : Action Thriller Language : Hindi Number of Episodes : 8 episodes Episode Run Time : 30 minutes Total Run Time : 240 minutes Digital Premiere Date : 23 September 2020
Apoorva Lakhia’s latest series for Voot, Crackdown, is unqiue in the way it feels that the writers themselves are unconvinced by the absurdity of the plot, as much as its sense of soft jingoism that has come to plague all stories in the genre. The show takes patriotism back a few decades where the spies were almost always more Indian than they were Hindu or Muslim (but since we live in the modern-day, we’ll actually have a Muslim protagonist and then constantly try to confuse the audience instead). Saqib Saleem headlines the cast as Riyaz Pathan ‘RP,’ who is part of a fictitious covert sub-division under RAW. In spite of suffering torture in Pakistan at the hands of terrorists, RP puts his duty above himself. As do most of the people who work in his team, since they are so willing to sacrifice their lives without ever revealing its true purpose. The show would easily fit into the mould of an unrealistic and dated action film if it wasn’t packaged with the elements of token modern-day content - pristine production design, slick action sequences, and some women who can kick ass.
What is the story about?
Our story begins when Maryam (Shriya Pilgaonkar) gets abducted by a local militant Hamid who is part of a larger terrorism circle tracing back to the Pakistani armed forces. Before her capture, Maryam takes RP’s promise that she will remain safe. The operation is being executed by four agents, under the supervision of the division’s director Ashwini Rao (Rajesh Tailang). Meanwhile, officer Zorawar Kalra of RAW has dreams of becoming Chief and is inevitably at loggerheads with both RP and Rao. Maryam's story sparks off a chain of events over the course of the series, as the team tries to unravel a big attack that is being planned, as well as a possible double-agent within the unit. There is no overt sentimentality for the nation and the actors seem sincere, but the series isn’t able to rise above its derivative storyline, cliched twists, and dated treatment.
Spy films and shows in this country are still far and few in between, so I give the makers of Crackdown some credit for attempting a long-format version of something that usually requires a fairly slick treatment. However, it is unfortunate that the writing doesn’t save itself from the trappings of being extremely derivative. If you are someone who has been exposed to other work in the genre - shows like The Americans or Homeland, or even films like Ek Tha Tiger, Romeo Akbar Walter (RAW), or Raazi back home, not an ounce of Crackdown has anything new to say. For most of the show, you will hear the same type of familiar generic words on a loop - sleeper cells, double-cross, rogue agent, inside job, covert and confidential, et al. The final reveal can be guessed from a mile away and the show significantly loses track in the season’s second half, muddling up its own threads and overcomplicating sub-plots and character motivations for no reason.
Crackdown starts off extremely well. There is an intense cliff-hanging moment after Maryam is captured. Soon after, we are taken into a flashback leading up to this event. Maryam's entry into Crackdown's main plot is done masterfully, even if its punch element is in the obvious prerequisite of subterfuge. The buildup behind her character's reality is riveting (even if it reminds you of Alia Bhatt in Raazi) and intriguing. The underlying tension of her ruse and possible exposure is palpable.
The moment the story shifts gears from Maryam’s plot back to the offices of the covert unit in Delhi is the point when Crackdown starts losing all track. Back-stories for agents are created to never be addressed again (including not-so-subtle allusions to PTSD), there are unnecessary subplots about ego and revenge, pivotal characters are explored through random exposition, a voiceover begins the show and disappears mid-way, the pacing goes from rapid to extremely slow and back, and whatever hint of realism existed at the beginning, is completely foregone for the fully filmy climax - complete with a bare-chested hero single-handedly decimating the bad guy, a female fist-fight, and even a villain-hero confrontation where everyone just… wastes too much time talking and doesn’t just shoot the other. It’s as if Crackdown began with the intention of being a miniseries and then got a sudden renewal.
Crackdown also features inconsistency in performances. Saqib Saleem is a competent performer who shows sparks of brilliance in the more cocky and arrogant parts of his character arc. Most of the time, however, he is made to be a brooding hero with a deep baritone and minimum dialogue which doesn’t really work for him. Shriya Pilgaonkar is nothing short of excellent and gets to explore a gamut of emotions - from a ruthless terrorist to a doting sister, a frustrated young woman put into a difficult predicament, a romantic love-interest, and an action hero. The romance between these two characters is a bit weak and one wonders why she is kept around once her character’s role in the operation is up. Iqbal Khan’s arc as Zorawar is frustrating to a fault giving him no redeemable qualities till the end. It is really only in the last two episodes that we get to see him perform as per his capability. The only other worthy member of the cast is Rajesh Tailang.
Music & Other Departments
Crackdown is shot and designed extremely well. The action sequences are highly enjoyable and very well choreographed. The narrative and editing are clunky and disjointed, and the score extremely repetitive.
Crackdown’s voiceover would have you believe that it is about a very real threat and goes beyond the wish-fulfillment fantasies of dated spy thrillers. But it is really only Shriya’s arc and involvement in the unit’s operation that is a significant hook for this story. And once that hook is released, things start to go downhill. There are about three to four significant action sequences in the whole season and all of them are extremely slick, well-choreographed... just a pleasure to watch.
Somewhere along the way, the direction loses track of whether it wants to be that hyper-realistic and rooted look into a terrorist attack and lives of RAW agents, or just your usual popcorn-fare. Either isn’t a bad choice but only one can realistically be adopted for the show. It is also unfortunate that the writing uses tired tropes of cultural and religious identity to establish its core conflict. There’s a lot of swearing which seems out-of-place and unnecessary. The climactic reveal is predictable from the beginning.
Did I enjoy it?
In the beginning. After Shriya’s main track was over, I got increasingly impatient and bored.
Do I recommend it?
If you are craving something from the home-grown spy/action/thriller genre, perhaps give it a shot. The rest can skip, Crackdown offers nothing new.