During the 1980s, a gang of con artists pose as government agents and target corrupt politicians and businessmen.
A grating combination of Eddie McGuire-style smugness blended with a young Burt Lancaster teeth-grinding grin and Tony Curtis profile, Hindi star Kumar has a broad smirk that makes Peter Costello’s look unassuming by comparison. And at first it looks like the only thing special about Hindi heist film Special 26 aka Special Chabbis, is that Kumar keeps straight-faced throughout.
Special 26 has a visual swiftness and a deceiving simplicity
Not quite true. Special 26 has a couple of extra reassurances built in. Writer/director Neeraj Pandey (A Wednesday) has the sense to put one of India’s most assured, but understated actors, Anupam Kher opposite the over-exuberant one and gives him, not Kumar, most of the script’s humorous moments. Throughout the film there’s a certain tension in waiting"¦ and waiting for Kumar to unleash his irritating mannerisms followed by the joyous realisation that they are not coming. The film is all the more delicious for it.
Kumar and Kher play the leading pair in a small consortium of 1980s-era con artists who pose as government agents (Central Bureau of Investigation, The Tax Office of India etc.) to raid corrupt government officials around India. The gang trade on the fact that when the government officials and politicians discover they’ve been scammed, the victims will be too ashamed to own up to their ill-acquired wealth to complain. Most of the first half of the film takes place in New Delhi and depicts a few different raids. When by-the-book, uptight, real, CBI officer Waseem Khan (Manoj Bajpayee from (Gangs of Wasseypur operating in top form) joins the chase, his only leads are two police officers (Jimmy Shergill and Divya Dutta) who were suckered into helping the fake government agents enact the film’s daring first raid.
The non-Indian Bollywood fan is always plagued by the question 'Is this a film that can cross over?" when watching Hindi films. There are only two songs (often a bugbear for newcomers) but one of those – a wedding dance number between Kumar and love interest Kajal Agarwal – is a dazzling corker. Unfortunately, the dialogue – if audience reaction is anything to go by – is clearly a lot funnier in Hindi than in its English translation. Some non-aficionados may also have trouble with the relentless action score by Surender Sodhi which alternates booming drum effects with blaring trumpets. But despite the constant repetition, Sodhi’s music never fails to spur the excitement.
Filmed by recently deceased DOP Bobby Singh, Special 26 has a visual swiftness and a deceiving simplicity that matches the score. By the end of the first half, the stage is set for 'one last job’ and an old fraudster (Kher) who might just be losing his nerve, so it seems like all the clichés are being dutifully lined up, albeit by high quality performances. But director Pandey is too clever to just serve up re-heated leftovers. The second half of the film centring on a robbery of an esteemed jewellery store in Mumbai, provides several unexpected twists. Audiences might see some coming, but they won’t predict them all"¦ and the last is a pleasure that is worth the price of admission.