, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


                    You know you are getting old when a movie set in the decade you grew up in is ready to be called a “period film”. 1987- The year that “Special Chabbis” is set in – when “Only Vimal” was the only brand worth its name in the Indian market, when Connaught Place was known as CP, a place one could aimlessly saunter in and watch life go by, when going to Chandigarh airport meant a trip through lush green fields; the  pre liberalisation era of Giani Zail Singh and Rajeev Gandhi, the days when Sunil Gavaskar and Sharjah reigned supreme,  a time when Government departments like CBI and IT were omnipotent and omniscient, when half the country would run and queue up for a walk-in interview with CBI, when a government job, no matter how ill paid, was the dream job anyone could think of. Yes the 1980s…when life for all its boredom was a tad bit simpler.

                 Unlike Neeraj Pandey’s earlier movie “A Wednesday” “Special 26” does not have a social message per se to convey but it beautifully recreates the India of 1980s. The charm lies in its almost rustic simplicity, even as it takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the shenanigans of the four conmen whose life it chronicles. We have seen the high tech versions of such heist movies, the most noticeable being “Ocean’s Eleven”, but these four poor country cousins of those L A brats achieve the unthinkable sans all gizmos and gadgets with only good old BSNL land line and Indian Airlines, with its heavily built air hostesses, to rely on. Why life, even robbery was lot less complicated back then.

                  It is to the director’s credit that despite having a star like Akshay Kumar, he is able to keep his starry persona in check, allowing him to blend in with the rest of the plain Janes creating a wonderfully balanced ensemble cast. Akshay’s love interest is superfluous no doubt as are the song and dance numbers but a star belonging to the 100 crore club has to be given some leverage. To give the devil his due, Akshay Kumar does hold his own in front of seasoned non-starry actors like Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpai. Both as the aviator wearing suave, seasoned leader of his team and as an ordinary IT/CBI officer in boring khakis and blues, he stands tall. His capacity for over the top comic act we have witnessed plenty in movies like “Hera Pheri” and “Bhool Bhulaiyan ”. A simple, down to earth con act – that is definitely a first for him and he carries it off with élan.

            Anupam Kher carries forth the “Khosla ka Ghosla” torch of an ordinary middle-aged man fighting the system. Only that this time he beats the system as a rogue instead of being beaten and victimised by it. As the ageing Sharma ji with an ever-increasing brood, he is the quintessential Indian middle class still caught in the rut of “roti, kapda aur makan”. Looks however can be deceptive as Manoj Bajpai discovers much to his cost. Sharma ji, at the end of the day, turns out to be the biggest surprise package of all.

              And what can one say about Manoj Bajpai? As Wasim, the hardcore honest CBI officer, he is the righteousness personified that Indian bureaucracy can only dream of. A no non-sense officer, he belongs to the chosen few who make it to the much-coveted bureaucracy but struggle daily to make ends meet. With his in your face attitude, he asks his superior if, pending his promotion and salary hike, he should start taking bribes! It is through him that one of the biggest shortcomings of the Indian bureaucracy is played out before us- complacency. So very convinced he is of his own skills and authority that he too falls prey to the machinations of the devious four. Jimmy Shergill, with his loaded “Janaab”, plays upon this very weakness – the fondness for “ji hazoori” by the subordinates. It is however because of this very humane failing that the audience feels for him as well though, throughout, you are rooting for the bad guys on the other side of the law.

                      Despite the minor glitches, “Special 26” works making it probably the best release 2013 has seen so far. Though widely different in its theme, it is yet reminiscent of “A Wednesday” in so many ways. “Special Chabbis” clicks because of those very reasons that made “A Wednesday” work- simple, matter of fact approach to their respective themes.