Director: Apoorva Lakhia
Writer: Suresh Nair, Chintan Gandhi
Cast: Saqib Saleem, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Iqbal Khan, Waluscha De Sousa, Rajesh Tailang, Ankur Bhatia
Producer: Sameer Shaikh, Apoorva Lakhia
Streaming Platform: Voot Select
An adequately ab-ed over-solemn Saqib Saleem plays RP (Riyaz Pathan, but the Muslim-ness of this name has been axed by making it RP, rendering it agnostic), a RAW agent who works covert operations, reporting directly to the Chief, a man named Ashwini (Rajesh Tailang). Names are very important here, they signal both the biases of our society and how we get around it. Ashwini, for example, doesn’t take to his to-be son-in-law because he is named Mehak, a girl’s name. (But to be fair, Mehak is quite annoying) Ashwini’s wife points out his own name, and Shakespeare’s dialogue comes to mind, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”- apparently enough is in a name to defame one into disrepair.
Crackdown, 8 parts, half hour each, is about two threats. One is external with Pakistan’s terrorists and sleeper cells attempting to blood-clot in Delhi. They take the help of an Indian lookalike of a Pakistani terrorist Divya (Shriya Pilgaonkar) to help bring down this threat. RP and Divya pursue affection, but to the credit of the show it never gets cloying. When RP puts up Divya at his house, he conveniently walks bare-chested, with sunken abs looking for a shirt. Divya eyes him, but not with lust, but concern, there are lash marks on his back that she fixates on. This could have easily been a moment milked with frothy, unbearable but perhaps viable romance. But the makers decided to keep the action above the belt.
The other threat is internal, with RAW’s Deputy Chief Zoravar (Iqbal Khan) vying for the Chief position, and suspicious of anything covert that is being done by RP and his posse of ‘papiyon’. Zoravar is an odd character because he is introduced as an adulterer, abuser, and rapist, and it seems by the end of the show he is absolved of any bad-ness by just figuring out the internal and external threat. It’s odd messaging- if you contribute to the country, your personal vices are forgiven, or at least forgotten.
The internal coherence of the story is lacking. I wish the meticulous efforts in top-shots and panoramic views were given to the grainy details. You will often ask why characters do extremely silly things that could be entirely avoided. This seems to be a Voot Select trademark. They are consistently watchable shows (save for Asur) which unroll at a breakneck speed; they never feel more indulgent than they need to be- the training montage, the cutting of hair as a moment of transformation, none of these scenes linger and I liked that. But the internal structure of the show seems to fall apart, if as a viewer, you ask trying questions. In that sense, this is quite an unexceptional show. There are also broad stroked characterization, if you have a Muslim terrorist, they will bring up the 72 hoors of jannat within a moment of meeting. The Muslim identity itself feels apologetic here, stuck between adaabs and bomb-blasts.
At 8 episodes though, I felt my attention thinning. The climactic showdown at the Indira Gandhi International Airport was quite exciting, but like they did with their other shows, Voot Select ends this on a cliffhanger. You walk away with the promise of another season, without getting a fulfilling first. It’s frustrating given the time we spend watching something build up, layer upon layer, without really seeing it come together as a whole. Just give me some closure, damn it!