“Hey this was the year I was born!” cried a girl sitting next to me in a packed auditorium on reading the year 1987 on screen. The guy with her promptly added, “Me too!” The girl retorted, “That makes us both 26, special 26!” The sugar or rather ‘caramely’ smell of the popcorn they were munching was a tell-tale sign of its popularity (Almost everyone seemed to be gorging on them). I hoped the caramel popcorn will make them watch the film in silence. Thankfully it did.
The Rajeev Gandhi footage handholds you to an era where almost everyone in the auditorium was born or was a child, including me. So the sight of Laal Marruttis, Padminis (not Kolhapuri! Premier Padmini aka Fiat), Ambassadors (not Brand Ambassador), the dinosaur landline phones (now devoured by aliens called cell phones), and the Naagin posters set the right tone for a film that makes you forget the very concept of time.
Special 26 is a perfect blend of excellent writing, cinematography (RIP Bobby Singh), performance and direction. To begin with, the writing is so nuanced that you feel familiar with each of the characters. For instance, the warmth of relationship that Anupam Kher’s character shares with Ajay aka Ajju (excellently played by Akshay Kumar) is evident in a phone call scene where Anupam Kher reads out a dhobi list of things required for his daughter’s marriage. The conversation between the characters played by Jimmy Shergill and Divya Dutta speaks volumes on restrained writing as well as acting. These are one of the myriad gems that ‘Special 26′ hides in its subtly written screenplay and to disclose any of them would warrant spoilers.
Akshay Kumar proves it yet again that there’s an actor hidden in him, not just a Khiladi. Sadly, we get to see this side of him in very few films like ‘Sangharsh’, ‘Tasveer 8×4′, ‘Hera Pheri’, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, and the recent ‘Oh My God’. ‘Special 26′ is definitely Akshay’s one of the best films. The other actor who reaffirms the fact that he is easily one of the best talents Indian film industry has (‘Acting ka king kaun?) is Manoj Bajpayee.
The character of roaring (and often snoring) Wasim Khan could never have been conceived without an actor of this caliber. The smartly penned dialogues come to life when he asks his senior, “Mere appraisal ka kya hua? Rishwat lena shuru kar dein kya?” , the scene where he reprimands his wife by asking, “Dupatta kahan hai tumhara?”, and the climax scene where he asks his junior, “Yahan chullu bhar paani kahan milega?” garners applause so loud that gives a serious competition to the 5.1 surround speakers of the auditorium.
The cinematography by late Bobby Singh gives ample of aerial views, reminiscent of an old Dev Anand and Madhubala starrer film, ‘Jaali Note’ (1960), which captured key scenes of the film (including chasing scenes) using aerial shots. This might be the director’s way of doffing hat at his previous film, ‘A Wednesday’ (equally brilliant film).
The chase scene between Manoj Bajpayee and a criminal is worth a mention for its believability and reminds of the chase scene in Sarfarosh on the streets of Delhi. Imagine how difficult it must have been for the director to recreate the eighties, arranging Contessos, Marutis, Fiats and Ambassadors for the wide angled shots of this scene (come on ‘wide angle’ is no longer a film jargon, we all have that feature on our digital cameras and DSLRs and we all are photographers, filmmakers and film critics in some way, aren’t we?)
The best part of the film’s background score is that it doesn’t make you aware of its existence and blends with the screenplay seamlessly. The songs (MM Kreem in his best form in ‘Mujhe tu’), though melodious, prove to be redundant in a film of such genre and so is the love angle between the characters played by Akshay Kumar and Kajal Aggarwal (the costumes are worth a mention).
‘Special 26′ is India’s answer to the recently Oscar nominated film ‘Argo’. For instance, ‘Argo’ was set in a different era and was based on a true incident, the film was about a bunch of people posing as a film crew, the film had a star Ben Affleck playing the lead and even directing it, one couldn’t resist drawing the parallels. Comparisons apart, ‘Special 26’ will surely be reckoned as one of the important films of our times, perhaps the only film where you root for the con guys. Though set in the eighties, the film still finds relevance today when corruption is at its peak and the heists of such kind would get all the more interesting (let’s hope for a sequel).
‘Special 26′ is so believable that you feel as if you were witnessing it live – such is the power of direction by Neeraj Pandey. I remember a guy seated on the row before my seat actually rejected a call on his vibrating mobile (A very rare instance these days, especially when someone is driving or watching a movie or play). Hold on your horses, another rare instance is yet to come.
When the credits rolled, the audience stood up and gave a standing ovation. Now how many Hindi films can boast of such accolade? This gesture proves the fact that unlike many filmmakers from the 100-crore ilk would like us to believe, our audience is capable of appreciating intelligent cinema. The standing ovation is the best box office collection any filmmaker worth his salt could ever hope for. So, take a bow Pandeyji, audience bajaaye seeti!