New Delhi: Neeraj Pandey's new film 'Special Chabbis' has opened to rave reviews. The film stands on the capable shoulders of a solid cast that not only reminds you of the ingenuity of Danny Ocean's men but of every good heist film you have ever seen in your life.
There are many things that work spectacularly for this taut film. The salt-of-the-earth performances of Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam give you hope that a good director can bring out the best in a competent batch of actors. I've found 26 things to like about one of 2013's most likeable film.
There are spoilers, come back later if you haven't watched the film yet.
1: Akshay Kumar: It isn't easy for a star to take a back seat and let other actors shine. Aamir Khan did that in '3 Idiots' and 'Dhobi Ghat' and it worked. Akshay is unusually restrained and mature in his portrayal of the kingpin of a bunch of con artistes.
2: India hasn't seen too many good heist films. The 'Dhoom' series started a trend of classy films that veer around cat-and-mouse games with law enforcement agencies. This is one film that hits the mark beautifully.
3: The detailing that went into etching even secondary character is noteworthy. Point in case- a CBI informant disguised as Lord Shiva ambling lazily past officers at the headquarters while his colleague, naked from waist up chats on the phone.
4: 'Special 26' tries hard to recreate 1987 in tinted hues, slicked back hair, lesser traffic on the roads and the drab sweater vest.
5: The charm of cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Jaipur are captured in loving details. There are stereotypes; especially the way women are shown wearing their sarees in Calcutta (with the drape in front, a style no one wore on the streets since the 60s and definitely not at the airport in the late 80s) but these are minor quibbles.
6: Anupam Kher, a fixture in Pandey's films, is better, much better than his last outing with him in 'A Wednesday'. His sheer ordinariness dissuades you from the reality that he is an equal partner in some of India's best con jobs.
7: The humour is excellent. There are laughable lines such as 'I wanted to do my country'.
8: This is an out and out director's film.
9: The past year has taught both the audience and the filmmakers that a powerful script is all that's needed for a film to succeed. Vicky Donor, Paan Singh Tomar and Kahaani are all script-dependent films that have fared exceptionally well in the dog-eats-dog market despite having cast relative newcomers.
10: Secondary cast: When you take a film to a new city, it's only natural that you cast some of the local actors. Kharaj Mukherjee in a tiny cameo as a raiding officer shines. He's a respected comic in Bengal and that Pandey, not unlike Sujoy Ghosh, thought of casting him, is commendable.
11: Spectacular research has gone into imbibing the mannerisms of Central Bureau of Investigation officers and the way they work.
12: Kajal Aggarwal isn't bad as the girl-next-door about to be married off to someone she does not love and in the eternal dilemma of having chosen a conman as her lover.
13: Delhi - How many films have been shot in Delhi recently? Yet I never get tired of seeing the busy Connaught Circle (Special 26, Agent Vinod), the sprawling bungalows of bureaucrats and politicians (Special 26, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl) and the shaded, tree-lined roads of high security areas (Rang De Basanti, Special 26) come alive on screen.
14: Rajesh Sharma, one of my favourite character actors, deserves a mention. His character as a god-fearing man who touches his mother's feet before going off each day on his crooked mission, roots him in reality.
15: Heaven knows how difficult it is to protect a plot twist of a film from the media in the age of social media. That the team did it so remarkably is in itself a credit to Pandey.
16: Manoj Bajpayee, as tough CBI officer Wasim Khan, is simply outstanding.
17: At nearly two and a half hours, the film could have dragged had it not been for the tight script that allows for no sagging. The time flies and the film holds your attention throughout.
18: Jimmy Shergill, accustomed to playing second fiddle to heroes, is given a lot of screen time in this film and he uses the opportunity to play one of the best roles of his career.
19: The dialogue is cracking, including the film's most touted line 'asli power dil mein hoti hai.' There are some hilarious lines given to candidates who show up for a fake CBI recruitment drive.
20: I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel. The filmmakers pave the way for a sequel in the final scene.
21: The economic realities of the time, including the far-reaching powers of the feared CBI of the 80s, are nicely portrayed in the film.
22: The roof top shots are back - this time while circling the Connaught Place and showing a sniper keeping an eye on the entrance of a jewellery shop.
23: Neeraj Pandey has more than proven himself a talented director - first with 'A Wednesday' and now with 'Special Chabbis'. I'm eagerly waiting to see what he does next.
24: The reason why Steven Soderbergh's 'Ocean's 11' worked was because he forced the audience to root for a bunch of conmen. You cannot help but cheer every victory of the'Special 26' team. And there lies the victory of the script. You cannot help but identify yourself with the middle-class realities of Kher.
25: The Akshay-Kajal romance, though not the best part of the film, somehow throws up an interesting pairing that could work in the future. There's chemistry there. This has been Sonakshi Sinha's realm so far. But I'd be keen to see Kajal being paired with mainstream heroes more.
26: I will sign off by mentioning the sheer impudence of a film that can think beyond the box office gratifications, take silly risks (especially in casting) and pull it off flamboyantly.