About 26 minutes less and Special 26 could have been a great film. That’s roughly the length of the two songs and the irritatingly redundant romantic track, which serves the star in the lead but does extreme disservice to what is otherwise a fun, sharp and thoroughly entertaining movie experience.
Like he had done in his much-loved directorial debut A Wednesday!, Neeraj Pandey again scores with a one-line concept. Latching on to the 1987 fake CBI raid — and robbery — of the Opera House branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri in Mumbai, the writer-director spins an engaging — maybe a tad loopy — con heist, a genre curiously ignored in Bollywood.
Asli power idea mein hai!
Four innocuous men from different parts of north India come together for the heists in different parts of the country, sometimes posing as CBI officers and sometimes as income-tax officials. They target ministers and businessmen who never report the cases given their black money would then come under actual scrutiny. Even though Ajju (Akshay Kumar) is the unsaid boss, the four do not have individual specialities and often rotate their roles among themselves.
When an inspector (Jimmy Shergill) fooled by Ajju’s army goes to the real CBI, the Tom-and-Jerry games begin, with the feline forces being led by officer Wasim Khan (Manoj Bajpayee). The showdown will be that real-event-inspired jewellery store raid where 26 new recruits will bolster the fake four. And moles will sneak here and there to slip in a tasty twist in the tale.
What Pandey does brilliantly is populate his film with the minutest of period details. Starting off with the Rajiv Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh-attended Republic Day parade, sourced from Doordarshan, he is able to retain you inside the ’80s show for the next two-and-a-half hours. From cars on the streets to ads in the magazines to what’s playing on radio and TV, every little thing has been looked into.
Maybe that’s what brought up the budget. Maybe that’s what prompted the casting of Akshay Kumar. Otherwise the man who arrived on the scene resting on the acting chops of Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher didn’t need a Rowdy Rathore to flambe his fondue.
While he is adequate, Akshay really doesn’t bring anything ‘special’ on screen. Yes, his asli power must be in the crore count at the opening weekend box office but you can’t help wondering the kind of intensity an Irrfan Khan or a Nawazuddin Siddiqui would have added to the scheme of things here.
Wisely, though, Pandey keeps all his emotional warfare to the well-honed craft of Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpayee. Kher, reminiscent of American comic legend Carl Reiner’s Saul Bloom from the Ocean’s trilogy, plays PK Sharma, who loves to lead some of the fake raids but actually wants to score one last big one and hang up his boots. Bajpayee in a no-nonsense lean-and-mean avatar deals with a stare so fierce it can melt the meanest of minds. Shergill, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam provide terrific support.
But the love story is a disaster. Yes you need an emotional tug and even a Catch Me if You Can had the so-much-in-love-I-want-to-give-it-all-up track but here Akshay romancing the two-decades-younger Kajal (Singham) Aggarwal to insipid MM Kreem tracks is a sheer waste of time and sudden drop of energy. It does nothing for the film except add that extra half-an-hour.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we used to hear about films chopping their length or adding songs based on the initial response. Well, with Special 26 being a throwback to that era, it would be fitting if Pandeyji can snip off the ishq wala fat and keep it strictly to the dharpakkad.
special 26 (u/a)
- Director: Neeraj Pandey
- Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, Kajal Aggarwal, Rajesh Sharma, Kishore Kadam
- Running time: 144 minutes
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