National security, terror threats and intelligence-ops make for ready thriller scripts across cinematic formats. The OTT space, with its multi-episodic structure, allows a longer time frame for stories to gestate, and that would definitely seem like an advantage while telling such tales, over the limited runtime of feature films.
Watch Crackdown Official Trailer | Saqib Saleem, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Iqbal Khan
Special OPS, The Family Man and Bard Of Blood are a few random instances, of shows within the genre that have tried scoring off that advantage lately, with varying levels of success. It is Bollywood filmmaker Apoorva Lakhia’s turn now, to tap the idea with his debut digital effort, Crackdown.
Lakhia spreads out his tale over eight episodes, but it does not take you long to realise the idea is not necessarily a plus point. As the episodes run, you could be wondering if he had enough story to sustain eight episodes in the first place.
The thing about narrating thrillers in a multi-episode format is unless the storytelling is taut enough, you begin to predict what could happen next, or right at the end. In Crackdown, that does happen once in a while.
The story (Suresh Nair) starts off on a note that might have seemed fresh back in the day when Amitabh Bachchan starred in Don. A covert Special Forces team of RAW, which reports directly to the agency head Ashwini (Rajesh Tailang), kills a female terrorist, Maryam (Shriya Pilgaonkar), at the very start of the show. A girl next door, Divya, is then picked and honed by the RAW because she is a lookalike of Maryam.
The idea is to plant Divya in Maryam’s place after due training, so that she can drive a clandestine mission aimed at nabbing a most-wanted terrorist. As the operation gets underway, the RAW special-ops team led by Riyaz Pathan (Saqib Saleem) discovers a far more sinister conspiracy to imperil the nation’s security.
While scaling up the drama around the covert-op, the narrative also focuses on internal politics at RAW, and how it can become a reason for national security to be threatened. This second subtext actually redeems the show, considering the primary, chase-the-terrorist plot is too familiar to surprise.
To Lakhia’s credit, his narrative is mostly brisk-paced. The problem is a lot of what happens could actually seem irrelevant, not adding up to much, and the storytelling tends to occasionally meander. Unlike Special OPS or The Family Man, Crackdown is happy using its espionage saga backdrop to merely cater assembly-line drama and action.
The series banks on Saqib Saleem to pull off a ‘desi’ Ethan Hunt but, let’s face it, for Saqib to strike Tom Cruise panache is sort of Mission Impossible. The actor does what every Bollywood hero does, when they need to flaunt machismo — he takes off his shirt to show off a six-pack beef. That, though, has never been a prerequisite to be a crack special-ops hero at RAW.
Shriya Pilgaonkar’s Divya, on the other hand, suffers from inadequate writing. You simply cannot bring yourself to believe her sheer miraculous transformation from the down-to-earth Divya to the ace commando who kicks butt with designer swag to protect the nation.
Rajesh Tailang is quietly nuanced as ever while bringing alive his RAW chief Ashwini, once again reminding you the actor remains underutilised in Bollywood. Iqbal Khan as Zorawar, Ashwini’s scheming deputy at work, pulls off his hard-cussing, libidinous character effectively. Most of the others do sufficiently in roles that do not demand exceptional skills, though Ram Menon as the hacker Max would draw your attention despite limited footage.
You realise the problem with the show’s protagonists is not necessarily the actors. Like Shriya Pilgaonkar’s Divya, Iqbal Khan’s Zorawar too is too absurdly-penned for the actor to leave an impact.
Crackdown is an okay option for a binge, though you might be tempted to stream forward a lot of the unwanted bits. The end keeps the option of season two open. There is still the important job of Divya and Riyaz falling in love after all, in between saving the nation.
Crackdown (series streaming on Voot); Cast: Saqib Saleem, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Iqbal Khan, Rajesh Tailang, Waluscha De Sousa, Ankur Bhatia; Direction: Apoorva Lakhia; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and half stars)
–ians, VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY