Special 26 (2013)
Dir Neeraj Pandey
India should be bursting with original stories.But Bollywood remains wedded to the big fat wedding formula and its hackneyed variations.Of late, there is a tendency to present the same stories in new settings, using one of the many accents of Hindi, to add color to the dialogues.Such films tap into the need to hear and see “authentic” local characters going about the same business of giving us a typical Bollywood musical or gangster saga.That mob flicks are also musicals is a giant folly, a case in point the highly stylized Gangs of Wasseypore, which had excellent songs but they ideally belong outside the film,as a part of its marketing ecosystem.
Special 26 is directed by Neeraj Pandey who made the audience favorite A Wednesday. This time he makes a heist film based on the urban legend of fake CBI men raiding and walking away with black money in the mid 80‘s.Its a great idea, we need our own Oceans 11 and since India has a jumbo population he gives us Special 26, the more the merrier! In fact one of the characters PK Sharma (Anupam Kher) has a huge battalion of children, he tells the mastermind Ajay Singh(Akshay Kumar), that there was no TV in his time, a lame excuse to make babies for fun.And the condoms called Nirodh distributed by the government were melted down to make flip-flop’s in a scam!
Pandey gets the India of the 80’s right, down to the street scenes strewn with Maruti 800s and Premier Padmini’s. When he briefly shifts the action to Kolkata he must have sighed with relief, not much has changed there.The movie begins with stock footage of a Republic Day parade, Rajiv Gandhi accompanied by a portly Giani Jail Singh and Narasimha Rao in white shoes. How I enjoyed those white shoes.In this wimpy political climate we see PK Sharma and Ajay Singh raid the bungalow of a minister, posing as CBI officers.They have two other accomplices and a few real police officers to lend credibility. The raid looks authentic, this was a good way for CBI and Income Tax officials to make money back then.My memory of a raid on my family came alive, but between us dear reader, we proved to be a waste of time for the IT guys.(Back then IT meant income tax)
PK Gupta is getting old and wants to retire.Like all good scamster’s they want to melt away into the Dubai sunset with one final big job.Ajay too is tempted, lady love is teasing him in the form of Kajal Aggarwal.He is getting old too and wants some action, PK Guptaji has already produced a cricket team, and his bio clock is ticking.Meanwhile the cops who inadvertently assisted them in their raid on the minister are in trouble and Jimmy Sheirgil ,the inspector, wants to clear his name.He joins forces with CBI hotshot Waseem Khan played by Manoj Bajpai to track the gang down. Waseen Khan is brilliant and energetic.Watch him chase down a bad guy on his Lambretta.
Ajay thinks up a big one, a huge jewelry store in Mumbai. But wait a minute, why should the owner hand over all his ornaments just because a CBI team is raiding him.This is the exact reason why Tribhovandas Jewelers deny to this day that they were the victims of a heist.Films involve suspension of disbelief and we should happily do so here, the rewards are quite refreshing. Does this faux docudrama morph into a genuine heist film? I will leave it up to you to find out.
Special 26 loses pace occasionally due to the love angle and the songs which are its love children.There are a few genuine laughs here and the cast delivers a rock solid performances. The back stories of some of the other players should have been explored further as well as the genesis of this gang.How they find a target would have made for a wonderful subplot but sadly that strand is not explored here.Doing all that would mean sacrificing the holy songs.
The color palette of film, costumes, set design and background score all add up to a very well crafted film. The locations are atmospheric, no credit to the line producers of Kolkata though.There is a wonderful scene staged in front of a small Indian Airlines plane.Ajay and PK talk, people think he is a govt. big shot.There used to be this Vayudoot airlines run as a subsidiary of Indian Airlines,serving remote parts of the country, mostly to ferry government officials while the losses were absorbed by the Civil Aviation Ministry.To pull out one of those little planes is a masterstroke.And oh the golden age of Beetel land phones(manufactured by Sunil Mittal of Airtel), a single cellphone and the plot would collapse like a pack of cards.
Small and effective heist films have become international classics like the good old French Rififi(1955) which had a nail-biting 20 minute silent safe cracking sequence and the Argentinian film Nine Queens(2000) which has been remade many times.Special 26 is a very good film, and delivers an authentic 80’s feel with an engaging plot. A fundamental rule of cinema is three good scenes, no bad scenes.Neeraj Pandey delivers more than three good scenes, several, in fact. Its 2 hours very well spent, the rest 30 minutes you can fiddle with your smart phone, take a leak, buy popcorn. Neeraj Pandey is one of our smartest directors and is improving with every film.Thats really exciting.