The Telegraph
Wednesday , February 6 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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CBI Comes Knocking

His first film A Wednesday! — an on-the-edge terrorism drama set in a single day — was a sleeper hit. This Friday, Neeraj Pandey directs Special 26, a heist drama based on a series of real-life con capers. A t2 chat with the Howrah boy and St Thomas alumni…

How did the idea of Special 26 come about?

I had read this article way back in 2000-01 about a heist in Mumbai in 1987. And then I started reading up on con jobs and I came across several other interesting incidents that we felt could be strung together into a gripping screenplay. Once we started scripting, we felt that the idea had a lot of potential and that’s how Special 26 happened.

Special 26 seems to be in the same mould as A Wednesday!.

Yes, in terms of mood and pace. But it’s a totally different film from A Wednesday!. While that was a socially relevant subject, this is a crime caper, but rooted in as much reality as A Wednesday! was. It’s got a bigger ensemble and the story moves from Calcutta to Delhi to Chandigarh to Mumbai to Jaipur. The scale is much larger than that of A Wednesday!.

Unlike my first film, this has a format that allowed me to bring in elements like songs and comedy. And I really love song and dance… I desperately wanted to have it in my film.

Why the five-year gap between your first and second film?

I didn’t plan it this way, but there were a couple of things that didn’t fall into place in terms of casting. Plus, I got involved in a Marathi film called Taaryanche Bait and that took a lot longer than expected. Finally, we got going with Special 26 last year.

Given the scale and the period in which it is set, filming must have been a tough job…

Recreating the period (1980s) was tough. All the departments had to work very closely to get the look right because it’s not an over-the-top period film.

Akshay Kumar stands out in the promos. What made you zero in on a commercial star like him for a role like this?

I always had Akshay in mind because it’s a very anti-image role for him… I wanted to cast him against the grain. I sent the script to him, but his office communicated to me that he didn’t like the story and didn’t want to do the film. The script was taken to other people, but somehow things didn’t work out.

About a year ago, Vikram Malhotra of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures (the producers of Special 26) met Akshay and when he asked him what he didn’t like in the script, Akshay told him that he didn’t even know of a script like this! A meeting was arranged the following day and I gave Akshay a brief narration of the film. In half an hour he told me he was doing the film.

Akshay’s immensely disciplined and very hardworking… very, very dedicated to his craft. We had a lot of reading sessions for this… something that I don’t think he has ever done before. He was very committed to the film and that’s the reason why we wrapped up the shoot in record time. He’s taken a chance with this film and has done really well. I am extremely proud of his work in the film.

How did the success of A Wednesday! change things for you?

If your first film works, it definitely changes a lot for you professionally. People give you a patient hearing and you get appointments relatively faster (laughs). People are eager to know what you will come up with next.

Your films are rooted in reality. Do you ever see yourself making larger-than-life Bollywood cinema?

I don’t think I will be able to do justice to that kind of a film. I am not cut out for that kind of cinema and I don’t want to attempt it. Making films like that requires a different kind of mindset… people who assume that making a Rowdy Rathore is easy are very wrong. It requires as much effort as any other film. I would love to keep going back to the genre of A Wednesday!… on-the-edge drama… because that’s my strength.

You were born and brought up in Calcutta. What were your favourite memories growing up?

Bunking school and going to movies! I am a huge film buff and grew up on a staple diet of Hindi and Bengali films. But at that point, I never thought I would be making films of my own. I am now looking at producing a Bengali film with Prosenjit. That’s something that I have always wanted to do because I was born and brought up here.

Priyanka Roy

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