Directed by: Neeraj Pandey
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Sheirgill, Divya Dutta and Kajal Aggarwal
All images courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com
From the trailer, it would appear Special 26 (S-26) is a by the letter film where crooks decide to carry out a big heist whilst a determined and honest policeman sets out to stop them. But such a sweeping summary ignores the wonderful treatment that the talented Neeraj Pandey’s vision adds to this story. Because much like a Dabangg, our protagonists are firmly entrenched in a grey area, committing illegal and immoral crimes but to balance that out, Pandey also gives us a glimpse into what drives them; two men responsible for looking after large families, a downtrodden husband who feels emasculated and a man who overcompensates for not realising his dream all coming together to pull off lucrative robberies.
Interestingly, Pandey doesn’t preach solutions or give us a character driven piece – instead, he takes a critical look at a system that is open to abuse and allows individuals to use the law to their advantage and escape recrimination whilst working in some wonderful moments of humour and drama that make the film engaging and entertaining. The weakest part of the film is the Ajay-Priya love story which I felt could have been done away with entirely to make the film flow more concisely (though it was nice to see Neeru Bajwa in the wedding song).
Performance wise, whilst I give Akshay props for trying to do something different, I didn’t feel he added anything to the film except commercial value. Kajal Aggarwal pulls off an actual heist in the film with two scenes and two songs which do nothing for her talent nor for the film, yet she gets second billing in the credits. It is left to Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpayee to bring the bread home and both do so wonderfully – whilst Kher brings a lovely vulnerability and realism to Sharma, Bajpayee brings across Khan’s determination with a touch of humour and lightness underpinned by fanatical drive to emerge triumphant. I also loved Divya Dutta and Jimmy Shergill who both make an impact in their short screen time and leave one wanting to see more of their characters as do Rajesh Sharma and Kishor Kadam in their supporting roles.
Much like Pandey’s previous film,the excellent A Wednesday, S-26 explores themes of vigilante style justice and the common man taking larger than life situations into hand for survival and succeeding in their quest. Fortunately, under Pandey’s direction, this not only makes for the kind of cinema that Hindi film in general could do with a lot more of but also makes for a timely and relevant commentary on India’s biggest ongoing problem with corruption in government and how this permeates every aspect of life in the country. Without a doubt, I highly recommend S-26 which I suspect may find its way in a few top ten lists of 2013 and certainly deserves this accolade too. Recommended.