It's been almost seven years before writer-director Neeraj Pandey decided to go back to the director's chair for what would only be his second feature film to date after making his debut with A Wednesday. And Special Chabbis, or Special 26, is indeed that special project that would lure him back, being once again a film inspired by true events, around a time in the 80s where identities of the taxman, and the policeman, were utilized by thieves in their respective heists against corrupt businessmen and politicians whom they know would not breathe a word on the loss of their ill gotten gains.
Akshay Kumar plays Ajay, whom we see as a Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) officer, together P.K. Sharma (Anupam Kher), Joginder (Rajest Sharma) and Iqbal (Kishor Kadam) performing a raid in New Delhi together with local policeman Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Shergill) against a prominent minister. But soon this facade soon gives way that Ajay, Sharma, Joginder and Iqbal are none other than con men of the highest order - confident in execution, meticulous in detail, and able to cover their tracks really well in their many heists together. This is like Danny Ocean and his Ocean's Eleven, except that Ajay relies on a much smaller crew in their attempts to fleece, relying on quick wits to turn unexpected situations into opportunities of gain.
The crux of the story, once we get out of the extended introduction, is the cat and mouse game between Ajay and his crew, and that of CBI officer Wasim Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) who is determined to track them down and bring them to justice for ruining and embarrassing the good name of CBI officers everywhere. And in part this key assistance comes from Ranveer who had been duped into helping Ajay and crew, and possibly being the only one who can help identify all the perpetrators, who have so far stayed below the radar after the completion of each heist.
Neeraj Pandey knows just what it takes to make a heist film, utilizing key requisite scenes such as the planning, and execution, tossing in surprises along the way to keep things fresh and engaging for the audience, never for once knowing just how each attempt would play out, at times for light comedy, but most times in admiration just how an escape strategy got formulated, with audacity. What's best here is of course the true meaning behind the title's Special 26, where once it's fully explained, will wrap up the brilliance of the entire caper, which proved to be that ace up Pandey's sleeve, with a pace that never lets up, save for moments where he felt he had to balance the testosterone levels with the introduction of Kajal Aggarwal's character Priya, serving as token romantic fodder for Ajay.
I felt Akshay Kumar was badly in need of a hit, and a film that didn't requite him to play the joker. His filmography in 2012 was rather weak throughout, and for a hardworking actor who appears in more than a handful of outputs, 2013 might be off to a great start for his fantastic performance here as the master thief and schemer who is into his final lap, so that he can retire with his lady love and ride off into the sunset. It's not the first time Akshay's playing a thief, but it's clearly one of his best roles in recent years. And added to that is Anupam Kher's ever reliable performance in a supporting role, as the one amongst the gang who has the most to lose, given a large family to support, and the one who gets put in a spot to decide whether he should give in to the law, or stick by Ajay and his grand plan.
Special Chabbis / Special 26 is that crime caper that's all smart and serious, but never without a light touch when the situation calls for one. Perhaps the only weak points here were the song-and-dance interludes that felt forced and necessary, but would have done heaps better without these pauses in the narrative, mostly for romance to take place, and to flesh out more depth to the Ajay character. But in all honesty, it's the audacity of the crime that's being committed that we're here for, and to see just how, in true Ocean's Eleven style, these robbers get to wriggle their way out of trouble. Recommended!