Director: Neeraj Pandey
The Indian Express rating: ***1/2
Say you are one of the ungodly, who steals and pilfers, and believes that ceilings are not meant only for fans, but for a false layer to hide the loot in. Say one fine morning a posse of search warrant-bearing plainclothes cops stride in, refusing to get intimidated by your powerful 'connections', and expertly unearth said loot. What would you do? Nothing, except curse roundly, and refuse to file a complaint.
This is exactly what Neeraj Pandey's extremely official-looking gang does, with verve, and entertains us vastly in the process. This is Pandey's second film, after 'A Wednesday'. Like his debut, this one is also based on real-life events, but 'Special 26' is a better film, coasting on realistic performances and locations, and a rapid pace for the most part.
There's something greatly impudent about smart thieves impersonating a crack CBI team and making off with valuables from the homes of the rich and the corrupt. They do their research and execute the heists with precision, and keep getting away with it, till one day they come up against a smarter officer who smells a rat. A cat-and-mouse game begins, and the film keeps up the momentum, and keeps a nice surprise up its sleeve for the wrap.
Pandey's choice of actors is fine, especially Kishore Kadam and Rajesh Sharma who don't have to belabor ordinariness. They simply are. Kadam plays a henpecked fellow just right, and Sharma is made to leave his home after touching an old lady's feet for her blessings : these are the touches which round off characters. Jimmy Sherigill's walk-on proves he is much better at supporting than having to lead.
The other two starrier gang members are more what we expect them to be even as they go about doing their jobs : Anupam Kher as Sharmaji, who made a ludicrous top cop in ‘A Wednesday', is much better here, as a much-married man with a gaggle of kids and a bun in his wife's oven, as well as Akshay Kumar, as Ajay aka Ajju, who is the brains of the group, kitted out in a thin moustache and flash goggles. Teasing them out is Manoj Bajpayee, again in fine fettle. His CBI `afsar' Wasim Khan, good father, careful husband ( where's your `dupatta', he asks his buxom wife with a nice mix of proprietariness and propriety) is bright, but knows when he is beat.
Pandey has a great liking for heights : he places a lot of the action on rooftops, ( just like he did in ‘A Wednesday'), which sometimes results in unintended funniness : CBI officers putting snipers on roofs is one thing, but holding a `briefing' or an ‘encounter' on terraces sometimes becomes simply an excuse for including an arresting shot. Two actually : the twinkling lights of Marine Drive, and another of the circular loveliness of the Capital's Connaught Place. The director does better with getting his period look right. The film is set in 1987, so the dress code is slicked-down hair, V necked half-sweaters, drab salwaar kameezs. No cell phones, only landlines ( one of which develops a near-forgotten crackle at a crucial time). There are a few improbable patches, and things slackens with an unnecessary romance between Akshay and Kajal : but then if you will have a star, you must also allow for songs, or what's the use?
Because Hindi cinema doesn't usually do well with intelligent hide-and-seek games, I didn't have too much hopes from ‘Special 26', but the film surprised me. Its flaws are minor; on the “whole, ‘Special 26' is a gripping, well-made heist film.