White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Hindi Movie Review: Crakk: Jeetega… Toh Jiyegaa has the makings of a cult classic, but runs out of gas well before the end

Vidyut Jammwal stars in "Crakk: Jeetega... Toh Jiyegaa," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

There’s an unhinged, madcap energy to Crakk: Jeetega… Toh Jiyegaa that I couldn’t help but admire, as I love movies that enthusiastically commit to concepts that others would consider embarrassingly outlandish. The film has the same kind of high-adrenaline, logic-out-the-window aesthetic as you might only see stateside in a Joseph Kahn or Neveldine/Taylor production. Which is to say, Crakk belongs firmly in the “I can’t believe they spent this much money and painstaking effort making something this patently absurd” action subgenre. Its title – the word “Crack,” but arbitrarily spelled with two k’s for no particular reason other than to suggest a film that breaks the rules – tells you everything you need to know about its overall aesthetic. If that sounds like a good time to you, it probably will be – at least for an hour or so.

The film’s manic energy, propelled both by the filmmaking and lead Vidyut Jammwal’s entirely straight-faced embodiment of the protagonist (whether he’s completely oblivious to the movie’s absurdity or just committed to the bit, we’ll never truly know), is really the main source of appeal here. The story itself is as bare-bones as action narratives come. Jammwal plays Siddhu Dixit, who calls himself an “extreme sports” junkie but for all practical purposes is really more of a daredevil with a death wish. He makes the Free Solo guy look like a garden-variety mountain climber. We meet Siddhu as he pulls off crazy stunts hanging out the windows of a train, a pastime he’s seemingly had for most of his life. Siddhu makes videos of his illegal tricks in hopes of being recruited for Maidaan, an underground competition for likeminded athletic dumbasses.

Siddhu gets his wish fairly early in the film’s running time; he is shipped off to an unnamed European country (inferred to be Poland, where this part of the film was shot) to enter the unsanctioned, often deadly competition that local authorities knowingly turn a blind eye to. He is pitted against 31 other Maidaan competitors from all around the globe, in games that appear to be widely viewed and betted on online, despite being held in “secret.” Think of it as a Zoom-era Death Race 2000 for gym-rats who are more skilled at parkour than driving. There are three rounds of “games,” culminating in a finale that sees the last competitor standing take on Dev (Arjun Rampal), the second-generation head-honcho of Maidaan.

Of course, this being an Indian film, there are far greater stakes than simply whether Siddhu wins, loses and lives, or dies in the competition – chiefly of the familial variety. We learn that Siddhu’s late brother and best friend, Nihal (Ankit Mohan), who he practiced all of his extreme stunts with growing up, died in the finals of a previous Maidaan. It’s no surprise, then, that his parents (Rajendra Shisatkar and Shalaka Pawar) are none too pleased at their son’s commitment to this endeavor. And what’s more: as Siddhu gets the lay of the land in Maidaan, it becomes increasingly apparent that Nihal’s death wasn’t just the result of competitive risk, but that Dev may have had a hand in orchestrating it. If that wasn’t enough Shakespeare for you, Dev also has his own family issues, clashing with his father on his vision for the future of their time-honored competitive enterprise.

After riding high on its preposterously entertaining setup and introduction of its enjoyably psycho lead character/performance, Crakk has trouble sustaining the same level of appeal in its second act. There are two key reasons that the energy level starts to sputter. First, basically none of the supporting cast other than the menacing Dev have any personality at all. Siddhu’s fellow competitors, representing different nations, largely don’t speak due to the language barrier with Siddhu, and those who do show minimal flashes of personality. The only other key character with a notable role in Maidaan is love interest Alia (Nora Fatehi), a social media influencer covering the games. She brings the sex appeal factor but little else in the way of real personality. If you expect her to serve as a romantic foil to Siddhu, in the grand tradition of such roles, or to play a role in a plot twist, dream on; this script is nowhere near that savvy.

The second reason that the film’s initially intoxicating schtick grows increasingly tiresome as it progresses is that the Maidaan games themselves don’t really deliver. While the action involved is compellingly shot and choreographed (despite some truly shoddy VFX work), the actual concepts for each round of competition feel like they were all drafted in an afternoon. The first challenge, involving a race with desert go-karts that are timed to shut off at dedicated intervals, barely gets one’s heart pumping despite feeling ripped from the nail-biting Mad Max: Fury Road. The second – and best – is another race, this time involving teammates literally banded together in pairs, on rollerblades, escaping vicious wild dogs. It’s worth noting that at no point in the backstory do we see Siddhu practice racing of any kind, only extreme stunts. You’d think his preparation would be more Maidaan-specific, but then again, he doesn’t appear to be very bright. The third challenge involves skydiving on a motorcycle, which is cool (even after Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning did it much better), but the rest is a complete afterthought. I think the producers of The Amazing Race – or even Big Brother – could have come up with more inventive competitions than these. They feel suitably lethal, as contestants drop like flies throughout Maidaan, but not engagingly high-concept enough.

It definitely seems like the writing team – comprised of director Aditya Datt, Rehan Khan, Sarim Momin, and Mohinder Pratab Singh – realized that the competition alone wasn’t going to keep the audience fully invested throughout. Why else would they add a truly absurd subplot involving Dev’s pursuit to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs, for what we later learn is an even more ridiculous purpose given the potential risks involved? If the movie was still sustaining its wacky concept from an executional point-of-view, at this point, we might choose to go along with it as an audience. After all, it’s no more inherently preposterous than the premise itself. But at a certain point, the proceedings start to feel a little less joyful and the mounting nonsense becomes lumbering. There’s probably a better version of Crakk that’s 90 minutes long, not the Bollywood-appropriate 154 it currently runs.

But I can’t completely dismiss the film, as I was extremely amused by its antics for the full first hour. It’s so off-the-wall, with such a singular lead performance from the mullet-donning and muscularly ripped Jammwal, that it will surely be fun to show friends once it’s available on streaming, even if you end up turning it off or fast-forwarding by the halfway mark. A part of me really longs for a superior iteration of Crakk that’s able to sustain its Looney Tunes-level excitement for the full duration, but perhaps I should simply be glad for the laughs I got. I just wish I didn’t have to sit through another hour-and-a-half of sluggish escalation to earn them.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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