So they loot the rich, and keep for themselves. Why the faux drama?
The first thing, I believe, any keen eyed spectator of Neeraj Pandey's new film "Special 26" will notice is that there's a whole lot of walking happening on screen. Leads, supporting, extras, dawdle, whizz, power walk in a mix of urgent-looking expressions away from or towards the camera.
This much walking can only mean one thing: there's an insistent predicament at work.
It is sometime in the 1980's – a decade free of multimedia distractions (also the facet helping "Special 26" the most) – when a group of con men personate as Central Bureau of Investigation officers loot illegally accumulated wealth from politicians and millionaires.
The money (and jewelry), of course is made out of the books, and reporting it to the authorities opens the looted party to unwarranted scrutiny.
Whoever the looters really were (I am talking about the originals looters, because "Special 26" is adapted from history), they clearly had a plan.
Flash-forward to 2013 and Mr. Pandey's film: the looters plan now metamorphoses into a superficial construct. Mr. Pandey, whose debut film "A Wednesday" was in 2008, builds on what may have happened, and for sake of spicing things up with dramatic ingenuity, turns it into codswallop.
"Special 26", whose title makes sense only by the film's last quarter, opens routinely enough; The police, led by the neophyte and naive Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Shergill) is hoodwinked into assisting a CBI raid led by Ajay Singh and P.K. Sharma (Akshay Kumar and Anupam Kher); the raid, though successful (the minister in question had his cash, stashed everywhere including the ceiling), is absolute hogwash.
Ranveer, disgraced and suspended when he puts two and two together, goes to the real CBI, who, until then, are oblivious of their doppelganger’s existence.
Naturally, they assign the film's Tom Hanks to Akshay Kumar's Leonardo DiCaprio, A no-nonsense by-the-book CBI officer Waseem Khan (the always excellent Manoj Baypayee) whose ambition to doggedly pursue Ajay and co has little to do with morality of their crime. Waseem’s only interest, from what we're told on the screen anyways, is that this is part of his job description.
And this is actually one of "Special 26's" main drawbacks: the characters are written for what they ought to be doing and little else.
For example: Ajay is a former CBI trainee, eliminated by a bad interview (ergo: his sharp noggin and his line of hoodwinking).
His crew of four includes a jittery family man from Chandigarh, Sharma (Mr. Kher), a henpecked husband Iqbal (Kishor Kadam) and Joginder (Rajesh Sharma), whose only point of reference is that he lives in a large joint-family; a moment of reflection later, it’s surprising how little we know about these people.
Ajay's love interest Priya (Kajal Aggarwal) – the film's only prominent female character (Divya Dutta is wasted as Mr. Shergill's deputy) – also suffers from single-dimensionality. She's your average girl next-door who, who, nearly married, is ready to elope with Ajay. She, of course, is ready to ridicule her family (clearly they must have done her wrong somehow) because it suits the romantic beat of the story.
Regardless of whatever its shortcomings – especially the climatic, "face-palm" reveals, which all but throw-away the films’ almost agreeable two hours – Mr. Pandey's work, though amateurish in formulating action and drama, has slight markings of an auteur. His pace is relaxed, he knows how to work his actors, and his keen modulation of the pros and cons of the era is ditto on the money (the film has excellent Production Design by Sunil Babu).
It’s only the rationale of Mr. Pandey’s excursion that needs work (that and his default instinct to have his characters jog all over the place).
Written and Directed by Neeraj Pandey. Produced by Shital Bhatia, Deepak Gawade, Kumar Mangat Pathak. Cinematography by Bobby Singh. Editing by Shree Narayan Singh. Production Design by Sunil Babu. Art Direction by Vaishnavi Reddy. Costume Design by Falguni Thakore. Action Choreography by Abbas Ali Moghul. Dance Choreography by Ganesh Acharya. Music by M.M. Keeravani Himesh Reshammiya. Lyrics by Shabbir Ahmed and Irshad Kamil.
With: Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Kajal Aggarwal, Jimmy Shergill, Divya Dutta, Rajesh Sharma, Kishor Kadam and Tikku Talsania.
Released by Viacom 18. "Special 26" is Rated U/A: No skimpy bikini parties here folks. That would be the "other" Bollywood film running on the next screen.