Neeraj Pandey's directorial debut A WEDNESDAY, which made a strong social statement, remains fresh to this date. It's one of those rare movies that won critical acclaim, swept major awards and reaped box-office rewards as well. The supremely talented storyteller now carries a major responsibility on his shoulders: SPECIAL 26 has to be a worthy follow up to A WEDNESDAY. While A WEDNESDAY was about the common man, his second attempt, SPECIAL 26 is about a con man. Sorry, con men. The core issue remains the same: Law breakers and law enforcers. SPECIAL 26, however, is more of a caper, inspired by true incidents.
A quick clarification before I proceed further. SPECIAL 26 is not one of those mindless masala entertainers with leave-your-brains-at-home attitude. You may assume it's one because Akshay Kumar is synonymous with films like HOUSEFULL series, ROWDY RATHORE and KHILADI 786. SPECIAL 26, which borrows from real-life incidents, is a heist drama, has no forced humor, no South-styled stunts, no song-and-dance routine with foreign dancers in the background. SPECIAL 26 is more of a 'treatment' movie, a plot-driven fare. So, there!
SPECIAL 26 brings to the big screen the scandalous and outrageous incidents that occurred in the 1980s. The film narrates the story of a group of con men who orchestrated and executed a series of robberies, targeting the rich and famous, business magnets and politicians by posing as CBI or IT officers, under the pretext of confiscating unaccounted wealth [black money] from their premises.
SPECIAL 26 encompasses three startling cases that sent a shiver down the spine of many a businessman in the 1980s. What makes the film tick is the manner in which Neeraj Pandey integrates these episodes in a sequence and develops a clever cat and mouse saga between law breakers and law enforcers. Like A WEDNESDAY, SPECIAL 26 also sets you thinking, but the motive this time is not to convey any message or make any social statement. The intention is crystal clear: Make an entertainer with a refreshingly different premise, which is a 360-degree transition from the customary masala fare. Yet, it's sharp, intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable.
Although SPECIAL 26 is about criminals, Neeraj shuns the unwanted bloodshed/violence and coarse language that would make the spectator uncomfortable. On the contrary, a film like SPECIAL 26 teaches you that you can attempt a thriller without resorting to the above-mentioned components, yet make a slick period thriller that's thoroughly engaging and charming. Also, since it's a period film [depicting the 1980s], Neeraj seems meticulous about everything that appears on screen, from vehicles to clothing to ambience to the overall look and feel.
Blemishes? Yes, the romantic track is an eye-sore. Was it necessary to include romance and songs in this movie? Why, Neeraj? The first half gets diluted for this reason, although the post-interval portions are simply outstanding. As for the soundtrack, there's nothing to hum about. Bobby Singh's cinematography is top notch and captures the bygone era with flourish.
Now to the performances! Akshay Kumar does a complete U-turn with SPECIAL 26. Deviating from the comic/action roles he is recognized for, Akshay truly reinvents himself with SPECIAL 26. No two opinions on that. This is, without doubt, one of the most challenging roles in his career and the seasoned actor enacts it with complete authority. Not only will Akshay's fans adore him in this new avatar, even the skeptical types will applaud this superb act.
Manoj Bajpayee has been associated with several path-breaking/cult films and one must add SPECIAL 26 to his fascinating repertoire. The skilled actor delivers yet another noteworthy performance that'll be hard to erase from your memory. Anupam Kher is another splendid actor who has an illustrious body of work and his part and performance in SPECIAL 26 is truly special. In fact, together with Akshay, Anupam and Manoj add so much power to the written scenes and lines.
Jimmy Sheirgill is first-rate, although the focus is primarily on the above-named three actors. Kajal Agarwal, who plays Akshay's love interest in the film, doesn't have anything substantial to do. Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam lend superior support. Divya Dutta has a brief role, which she enacts well. Deepraj Rana is alright.
On the whole, SPECIAL 26 is an intelligently woven, slick and smart period thriller with its subject matter as its USP. It's sure to get listed as one of the most gripping heist dramas based on real life occurrences. A film that's sure to win accolades, acclaim and awards. Also, box-office rewards!