SPECIAL 26. Director: Neeraj Pandey    Players: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher,   Manoj Bajpai, Jimmy Shergil, Divya Dutta, Rajesh Sharma, Kajal Aggarwal  Music:M M Kreem Theatrical Release: Viacom

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There is reason to cheer! Continuing the trend of good storytelling set in 2012 with Barfi, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Kahani, Gangs of Wasseypur and to some extent Talaash, Special 26— despite the formulaic title is anything but.

Neeraj Pandey’s second offering after winning the Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film of a Director, for A Wednesday, is as gripping as the first. After years of shaky steps towards finding the perfect balance between blockbuster “mainstream” and niche “art” cinema, finally, it seems Bollywood has discovered what it takes to get out of the woods and deliver good, wholesome entertainment!

There is no heavy drama, no mindless violence, crude comedy or “item numbers;” not even a full-blown romance but the movie works on the strength of a good script, credible performances and excellent editing. After years of larger than life heroes we’ve now found our “real” hero in the common man. In Pandey’s  A Wednesday it was a common man who brought dreaded terrorists to justice and here it is the guys-next-door gang of con-men who lead the entire police-force of a country on a merry dance solving fake income-tax raids.

The film is based on a real-life incident that occurred in 1986-87—that of the daring robbery at a well-known jewelry show-room in Mumbai. A robbery planned and executed so perfectly that till date the robber is still at large and the police have no clue as to his identity.Ajay (Kumar) and  P. K. Sharma, with their two friends are your regular guys,  doing  regular things like falling in love, getting their children married, washing clothes—in fact, they’re the unlikeliest looking group to pull off the boldest cons of the country. They target big

businessmen, corrupt ministers etc., they act fast and disappear faster into thin air. They count on the fact that since black-money is involved these people do not take any action and in the unlikely case of their doing so, their own commonness provides them an effective cover till their next strike. Everything works well till they dupe a police-duo Ranbeer (Shergill) and Shanti (Dutta) into helping them assist in a heist. Ranbeer Singh is suspended as a result and decides to bring the foursome to book under the bull-headed cop Wasim Khan (Bajpai).

What follows is an edge-of-the-seat cat and mouse game between the wily conmen and the hound-like policeman. On the side, there is a love-story when Ajay falls for the pretty girl (Kajal) next-door and promises to change for good after one last big heist.

Of the performances Kher is decidedly the scene-stealer. One marvels at his body-language and the sheer mobility of his features which can change an intense scene to a comic one apparently without any effort.As for Akshay Kumar, after Oh My God!, this is another movie in which he presents more than just brawn and ribald comedy—he performs the quick-witted master-mind act with panache. A perfect counterpart to these two is Bajpai, credible in this role of a determined cop. Shergill, with his sheepish look at having been taken for a ride by conmen is believable, as is Divya Dutta—the constable, whose dialog is a dead giveaway, the import of which one realizes only towards the climax.

One impressive facet of this movie is its cinematography which takes us to the 80s with its white Ambassadors, Vespa and Lambretta scooters. Care has also been taken to show the roads less crowded, the newspapers in black and white, old movie posters and even the time relevant advertisements.The tight script, excellent direction and superb editing make this movie a must-see.

The script is complemented by crisp dialogs, which does not take the lazy-writer’s recourse of expletives to keep the audience interested.  But the biggest doff of our hat goes to the director for keeping the film knit perfectly with its tracking camera shots, which add to the pace of the film, steering clear of superfluous sub-plots and never letting a scene exceed the audience attention span. The one thing which could’ve been done away with is the love-angle which hampers the speed a bit. All in all a marvelous must-watch.

EQ: A

Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.

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