Reviewing the Reviews: Special 26

11 Feb,2013

Special 26

Key Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kajal Aggarwal, Manoj Bajapyee, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill

Directed By: Neeraj Pandey

Produced By: Viacom18 Motion Pictures


This second film by Neeraj Pandey of A Wednesday fame got surprisingly rave reviews – mostly raves, some rants too, but a general 3 to 3.5 star rating.


It didn’t seem to bother any critic that the film glamourises criminals, but perhaps the climate of the country is such, that audiences want to see the powers that be humbled.


So, in spite of plot holes, what-the-hell moments and an insipid romantic track, Special 26 has pleased quite a number of reviewers and public alike.


Anupama Chopra of Hindustan Times gushed, “Special 26 is the best Hindi film I’ve seen this year. Inspired by a real-life heist in 1987, writer-director Neeraj Pandey constructs an elaborate cat-and-mouse chase between cops and robbers. Except, here, you’re rooting for the bad guys.”


Rajeev Masand of ibnlive was positive too but also picked flaws, “If the film falters occasionally, blame it on the pacing; the first half feels particularly stretched out because of the needless songs that act as speed-bumps in the way of a smooth narrative.”


Sukanya Verma of wrote, “Pandey’s filmmaking has always prioritised matter over cosmetics. Like A Wednesday, Special Chabbis isn’t exceptional in technique — no fancy camera work or hip background score — but practical enough to assemble a robust, taut film that gets over sooner than you think. His focus is on movement to imply a breathless pace. All his characters are constantly on the move with long-shots of their energetic march towards the camera. But that doesn’t undermine his ambition or how effectively it achieves the same. Filming on New Delhi’s bustling Rajiv Chowk and transforming it into 1987’s Connaught Place is no easy task. Barring a fleeting shot of a Peter England showroom, Pandey recreates an earlier time with old Only Vimal advertisement logs and outdated car models like Ambassadors, Premiere Padminis and early Maruti 800s forming the sparse traffic.”


Shubhra Gupta of Indian Express liked it, but with reservations. “There’s something greatly impudent about smart thieves impersonating a crack CBI team and making off with valuables from the homes of the rich and the corrupt. They do their research and execute the heists with precision, and keep getting away with it, till one day they come up against a smarter officer who smells a rat. A cat-and-mouse game begins, and the film keeps up the momentum, and keeps a nice surprise up its sleeve for the wrap.”


Sanjukta Sharma of Live Mint was not terribly impressed. “The story and screenplay have the promise of a simple and linear heist. But Pandey digresses. He opens up a love story for Ajay. There are songs. There is a bhangra number set in Chandigarh. There are way too many scenes of either the four con men or the CBI team just walking towards the camera in slow motion. Past events are shown repeatedly in flashback. The background score, which imitates a bad disco track from the 1980s, hammers the film throughout. Every small action is set to music. Above all, a banal justification of why Ajay decided to pose as a CBI officer, giving him a fake moral aura, spoils just about everything about the character.”


Madhureeta Mukherjee of The Times of India raved,”Inspired by a real incident, Neeraj Pandey cuts to the chor-police chase and weaves an intelligent, mind-racing thriller, keeping you tightly strapped to your seats. It captures the 80’s era beautifully; and the cinematography (Bobby Singh) is a cut above (special mention: scenes in Connaught Place, Delhi, and Kolkata streets). The powerful background score enthuses the pace. The only place he loses momentum is the romantic track and dance number, kinda unwarranted, we must say. Interestingly, this con-job story is not superbly-stylish or stealthily serious. It doesn’t stun you with a social message like Pandey’s A Wednesday, but it grips, excites and ahh…climaxes too! And no … you can’t fake this one! Catch it for pure cinematic orgasm.” (Huh?)


Saibal Chatterjee of raved even more. “One absolutely failsafe way of figuring out the efficacy of a movie is to measure how heavy its runtime weighs on the audience. Special 26 is actually quite a long film – it is a shade under two and a half hours. But it feels much shorter than it really is. It glides by with such effortlessness that it leaves behind no unsightly footmarks. Special 26 is an intelligently scripted, superbly acted, enthralling and believable heist film that is more than just that. Writer-director Neeraj Pandey’s maiden film, A Wednesday, was a taut thriller that delivered a sharp comment on the nation’s frequent and bloody brushes with the spectre of terrorism. This one turns the spotlight, if only tangentially, on India’s collective and seemingly never-ending struggle to rid itself of the scourge of rampant corruption.”


Janhavi Samant of Mid-day commented, “There is no doubt that Neeraj Pandey’s second film is a winner. Pandey and his production crew also stay strictly loyal to the era of the story, India of the 1980s. Only Maruti 800s and Fiats on the roads, no skylines visible anywhere, briefcases, watches, the look is authentic and enhances the sober mood of the film. The story is fast-paced and thoroughly gripping, so much so that the protagonist’s minor romantic track actually seems like a drag. Much of the film’s success can be credited to an absorbing and audacious plot and its gentle sarcasm and quiet humour.”


Pratim D Gupta of The Telegraph wrote, “About 26 minutes less and Special 26 could have been a great film. That’s roughly the length of the two songs and the irritatingly redundant romantic track, which serves the star in the lead but does extreme disservice to what is otherwise a fun, sharp and thoroughly entertaining movie experience. Like he had done in his much-loved directorial debut A Wednesday!, Neeraj Pandey again scores with a one-line concept. Latching on to the 1987 fake CBI raid – and robbery – of the Opera House branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri in Mumbai, the writer-director spins an engaging – maybe a tad loopy – con heist, a genre curiously ignored in Bollywood. Asli power idea mein hai!”


Sudhish Kamath of The Hindu got it right. “You got to love this Neeraj Pandey. For, he has his heart in the right place. Special 26 is in many ways similar to his fantastic debut thriller A Wednesday. It packs in the collective angst of society towards a certain group and provides catharsis through the actions of the protagonist. But there are departures as well, if the first was about vigilante justice, this isn’t half as righteous. It’s no Robin Hood.”


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