Special 26 opens with a 1987 documented footage of the January 26 Republic day parade with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Just that it’s not a random montage, but the actual period the film is set in. Round dial TVs, old telephones, retro auto rickshaws, and a lot of Maruti 800 cars; Neeraj Pandey has a blast re-creating India in the late 80s. It’s not just in key scenes that this detailing is showcased, it’s present even in the irrelevant background elements where you think no one would look. Excellent art direction and production values make it all the more easier for the director to tell his tale.
And a fine tale it is. A visually energetic con caper punctuated with laconic wit of both its characters and its makers, Special 26 keeps you occupied for most parts. The sense of chase and confrontation is implicitly persistent in every scene, because the characters are always on the move, always in a hurry to be somewhere else. And there’s someone else who’s trying to get there first. The streets of Kolkata and government offices of Delhi are beautifully created as we travel with them here. The quartet of Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam are the band of fraudsters, and the story follows them through three capers as they outwit politicians and businessmen out of their black money.
They pretend to be CBI officials, and the agency chooses its best man to protect its reputation. Manoj Bajpayee plays CBI officer Waseem Khan in an intense and high energy performance, and even though his character comes up second, it’s the standout act of the film. In fact, between him and Anupam Kher’s everyman humor – played with the light handed touch of a true performer – it’s Akshay Kumar who is exposed for lack of range in what would have otherwise been the dry wit acts that we’re so used to seeing from him.
The dialogue, the screenplay and the performances hold the film together, but what stops it from being a great film is its length. The romantic track and songs are absolutely needless, of course. But even in other parts, like the opening caper in Delhi, the film misses the services of a sharp editor. Too much time is wasted in showing how they raid the politician. If it was an attempt to make the raid look authentic, it could easily be achieved in half the time. Similarly too for the Mumbai caper, where the recruitment drive for trainees is just a plot MacGuffin, and extending it so much is really trying to fool the audience for no reason. The final twist – yes, there’s one – isn’t exactly earth shattering, and in hindsight, is the only way the writers could have gone. Thankfully, the film is not hinging on this to make an impression, and by the time it’s revealed, you’ve already been entertained.
Akshay Kumar mentions in a moment of self deprecation that he has to do this job because he exercises his foot muscles more than his head muscles. Ironically, Special 26 is the rare Hindi caper film which depends less on brawn and car chases and explosions and more on the intelligence of its protagonists to get by.
Hindi, Action, Drama, Thriller