Direction: Neeraj Pandey
Actors: Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher
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.
In 1987, an unknown man walked into a well-known jewellery store in Mumbai posing as a CBI officer. He made off with jewelry worth lakhs and was never found.
In Special 26, Neeraj gives us a group of conmen led by Ajay Singh, played by Akshay Kumar. These men flit about the country pulling off raids in the name of the CBI.
Their victims are inevitably corrupt men with black money who don’t dare to file a formal complaint — the film begins with a very funny raid on a minister who has money dropping like rain from a false ceiling.
The happy scenario continues until a real CBI officer, Waseem Khan (played by Manoj Bajpayee), gets on their tail.
The film’s titles play out against newspaper headlines, creating a sense of immediacy and urgency that never lets up. Pandey deftly keeps the plot moving.
The characters are fleshed out with little details so that Sharmaji, played by Anupam Kher, is a lusty old man with a long line of little children. When he leaves home, he lovingly reminds his wife to have the latch in their bedroom fixed.
Waseem Khan is stern and unbending in his honesty, while Ajay is a cool operator. The film’s sense of urgency never lets up.
The plot is deftly kept moving. The one false note is Ajay’s half-baked love story. Silly and superfluous, it dilutes the tension and adds little to the narrative.
That aside, it’s a crackling script that actors bite into. Akshay tones down, Anupam is comically vulnerable and Manoj is a tight ball of fury waiting to unleash.
In places, the film gets trapped by Akshay’s superstar status — he’s the best-dressed and most heroic in the conventional sense — but mostly the ensemble cast plays seamlessly together.
The climax isn’t fully convincing but you won’t mind because Neeraj Pandey has delivered a sparkler. Special 26 is special.