The switcheroo film (China Town, Kalicharan, Don) meets the save-the-nation thriller – what could possibly go wrong? A female terrorist is killed during a raid. A covert special forces team that reports directly to the Research & Analysis Wing chief Ashwini (Rajesh Tailang) trains an exact lookalike to take her place. Divya (Shriya Pilgaonkar) is understandably reluctant to switch from beauty parlour duties to undercover operations, but the covert team’s leading man Riyaz (Saqib Saleem) reminds her of what is at stake – a terror threat, at the very least, not to mention outright Armageddon.

The Voot Select series Crackdown, written by Suresh Nair and directed by Apoorva Lakhia, could never be accused of a dull moment. Each of the eight episodes, clocking roughly 30 minutes, crackles with activity, even if it often involves running around in circles. Tense music plays in the background in nearly every scene as Riyaz scrambles about trying to foil a terror attack as well as learn the identity of a mole in the Indian ranks.

Shriya Pilgaonkar in Crackdown (2020). Courtesy Voot Select.

More absorbing than the hunt for the terrorists is the suggestion that the country’s premier foreign intelligence agency is seething with internal politics. Ashwini’s deputy Zorawar (Iqbal Khan) wants his job and hates Riyaz’s guts. Zorawar’s only goal in most of the episodes is to stymie Ashwini’s operation. But it’s a miracle Zorawar gets any work done at all – he is indiscreetly carrying on with one of his employee’s wives, which sends his spouse Garima (Waluscha De Sousa) into paroxysms of rage.

Tut-tut – what has the RAW come to? Zorawar’s inability to rein in his libido, his profanity and his unbridled rudeness would have earned him a suspension or two in the real world. Since Crackdown plays out in a fantasy zone, Zorawar’s antics must be winked at, as must the suggestion that a list of every single Indian undercover operative is sitting on a pen drive, waiting to be delivered to the enemy and its Pakistani handlers.

Having reduced the RAW to a shambolic place seething with turf warriors and inefficient blokes, the series goes for broke. Riyaz emerges as Indian intelligence’s Tom Cruise as he exercises brain and brawn in equal measure. Riyaz and his team manage to stay close on Divya’s trail as she infiltrates the terrorist ring while posing as their fellow traveller. Always a few steps away from peril and frequently on the spot to prevent trouble, this home-grown version of the fictional Mission: Impossible agents is a thing of marvel.

Iqbal Khan and Saqib Saleem in Crackdown (2020). Courtesy Voot Select.

Divya’s transformation into a crack commando is equally gobsmacking. She has occasion to admire the impeccably turned-out and admirably chiselled Riyaz – the show finds excuses to show off his upper half – but the development of the romance is kept for a second season. The series ends on a cliffhanger, even though the cat-and-mouse game could easily have run its course in the allotted runtime.

Determinedly preposterous and as riveting as a train wreck in slow motion, Crackdown makes short work of narrative intelligence as it rips through the terrorism thriller template. The performances, with the exception of Rajesh Tailang and Waluscha De Sousa, are strictly serviceable. Saqib Saleem and Shriya Pilgaonkar make the best of their limited abilities as they go about nation saving. Iqbal Khan exhausts his repertoire of curses as he balances workplace tensions, his sex life, and his irate wife. Ram Menon has the most fun as the dweeby hacker Max, who has his eyes everywhere.

Crackdown (2020).