Saturday, February 09, 2013

Special 26 

Hero Con

In today’s ‘anything goes’ times, it may not bother anybody that Neeraj Pandey’s Special 26 glorifies criminals. Okay, so they only rob the corrupt, but still, it is a crime, and Pandey manipulates the audience into admiring and rooting for his Gang of Four.

The film takes off from a true incident in 1987, when a man made an elaborate plan to loot a jewellery shop in Mumbai—a plan that succeeded because of its brazenness as much as its ingenuity. This heist remains unsolved and at one time gave rise to rumours of it being an inside job.

Pandey has imagined what might have happened, and created a well-scripted, fast-paced thriller with four unlikely friends at its core. He does not give them detailed back stories, or any justification for what they do.  Ajay (Akshay Kumar) is the ‘brain’ who is sure he will never be caught. The others are Sharma (Anupam Kher) a father of a dozen kids (“because in our time there was no TV,” he explains); the henpecked Iqbal (Kishor Kadam) and Joginder (Rajesh Sharma) about whom all you can see is that he has a very large family and a silent grandmother watching over the sleeping brood.

The film opens with the Gang pretending to be CBI officers conducting a raid on the palatial house of a minister.  The planning is perfect--down to the cars, papers, IDs and a bunch of cops to help. There is money hidden in false ceilings, behind deities, in car seats; obviously the minister does not file a report for fear of exposing his own corruption.

A real, honest CBI officer Waseem (Manoj Bajpayee) gets on the case, with the cop, Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Sheirgill) who was disgraced in the minister episode along with a female colleague (Divya Dutta). He is given a typical braveheart entry—chasing a suspect all over Delhi streets and nabbing him. In one scene he tells his superior, that he can’t make ends meet on his salary, so can he start taking bribes?

 After taking a break for the wedding of Sharma’s daughter, the Gang strikes again, this time in Calcutta.  They walk into a genuine CBI raid, quickly turn around and conduct an income tax raid on another business establishment, audaciously asking cops to carry the loot to their car.

Waseem finds out that they have gotten away with dozens of such con capers simply because nobody goes to the police. He gets information about a big one being planned in Mumbai and he wants to catch them red-handed. This robbery, borrowing its modus operandi from the real 1987 case, has Ajay's team recruit eager youngsters to conduct the raid as a test for getting a job with the CBI.

Setting the film in the eighties means getting period details right, from rotary phones to retro cars, costumes and accessories, to hoardings and jingles of that time.  Great production design, with just a couple of slip ups.

The film is amusing, its wit dry, and performances smooth—Akshay Kumar is effortlessly cool. But there are problem areas—the useless songs, the romantic track between Ajay and a neighbour (Kajal Aggarwal), some plot conveniences, the extra loud background track and excessive use of slow motion and split screen. At least some viewers, among those chuckling away, will worry about thieves being portrayed as heroes and cops as idiots!


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