Neeraj Pandey made his debut as a screen writer and director in 2008, with A Wednesday! starring Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah, which ended up being the surprise hit of the year. A Wednesday! was not your typical Bollywood thriller, although it did have a retro feel to it, with elements of the great thrillers from the 1970’s laced throughout.
Overall, Pandey created something outstandingly unique, with careful concentration played to tension and suspense. This being so, I was especially enthusiastic to see his latest offering Special 26, and I was not disappointed. With a sterling cast, including Ashkay Kumar and, again taking one of the lead roles, Anupam Kher, this is a film that lives up to the hype.
Pandey has kept to the winning formula of the crime thriller, only this time embracing full on retro. Special 26 is set in Bombay and Delhi during the late 1980’s, and centres around a gang of CBI imposters, who perform raids on the great and the good.
The gang is headed by the unscrupulous Ajay Singh (played by a revealing Ashkay Kumar) and his second in command P.K Sharma (played by Anupam Kher) along with Joginder (Rajesh Sharma) and Iqbal (Kishore Kadam). The gang are a particularly thoughtful bunch, their raids being meticulously planned and executed. With the film being set in the 1980’s, the absence of mobile phones and other technological wizardry brings suspense further to the forefront.
The four men are by no means unlikeable. In fact, they are superbly well crafted characters, each with an interesting back story. Moreover they each posses some moral code, which in some instances is extremely well hidden, for this was still the age of the gentleman criminal.
As the narrative shifts from the criminals to the cops, the film picks up the pace. When the real CBI finally learn of these raids being carried out in their name, they act swiftly, and one of the few officers to not be tempted into the arms of corruption is put on the case.
Waseem Khan (played by the ever versatile Manoj Bajpayee) is the manifestation of all that is good in the police force. Studious and erudite, he will stop at nothing to catch the gang in the most law abiding way possible. He is assisted by Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Shergill) a Sub-Inspector and victim of the gang, who is determined to act his revenge.
It’s clear that Pandey has put a tremendous amount of thought into Special 26. The plot is filled with interesting little twists and turns, to keep you on the edge of your seat. The characters are broad and deep, and although the theme of the good cop engaged in catching the criminals may be an old one, Pandey has given it an incredibly refreshing treatment.
With the whole film cradled in Bobby Singh’s gorgeous cinematography, Special 26 is creatively and aesthetically brilliant.
As much as I love this film, there is one tiny flaw; Ajay’s love interest Priya Chavan (Kajal Agarwal) didn’t really play as a big a role as she could have done, but this criticism is so insignificant, it is barely worth mentioning.