Direction of Special 26 is good, ABCD's wonderful

MUMBAI: Special 26 is a caper movie with a story set in the 1980s. The story is inspired by a real life heist in Mumbai in 1987 when a famous jewellery shop in South Mumbai was raided by a team of fake CBI that took away valuables worth many lakhs. Coming from the writer-director of the acclaimed 2008 film, "A Wednesday", the expectations from Special 26 were high.

Producers: Shital Bhatia, Kumar Mangat.

Director: Neeraj Pandey.

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpai, Jimmy Shergill, Kajal Aggarwal, Divya Dutta, Rajesh Sharma.

Akshay Kumar aspires to join CBI but fails the entrance exams and is rejected. Undeterred, he forms his own personal CBI team with Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam. This was the era of parallel economy, where much black money was involved in day-to-day transactions. The purpose of his "team" is to raid targets like jewellers and politicians in the name of the income tax department or the CBI as per need. The raids always go unreported: the targets dare not complain as it is a matter of black money. Kumar‘s team members are all spread out in different cities and how they came together is not explained.

The team‘s targets so far have been small and medium range. Kher feels he is getting old and wants Kumar to plan one big heist so he can retire; Kumar has same plan in mind because his lady love, Kajal Aggarwal, a school teacher, is to be married off in a month‘s time. So, with a strict deadline, he plans to carry out one last job and vanish with his love.

Meanwhile, Kumar‘s team raids a politician in Delhi. His modus operandi is simple but aggressive. He chooses his target and calls up the local police team of Jimmy Shergill and Divya Dutta as back up. This puts up a convincing show for the target. The politician is not willing to lodge an official complaint because it was all graft money and also because if leaked, the story would make him look like a fool among his people. However, since a real cop was witness and party to the incident, the police chief suspends him along with his aide, Divya Dutta while deciding to carry on the investigation off the record.

Suspended and humiliated, Shergill has started his own investigation into the team. He approaches the real CBI, Manoj Bajpai. A chase around Delhi‘s crowded commercial areas to catch a criminal establishes Bajpai‘s sincerity, determination and bravery. His orders are to catch the fake CBI team and end their run of robberies which is about to reach half century. Meanwhile, Kumar‘s team is in the process of raiding a trader in Kolkata. But a real CBI team is already present there on their assignment. Kumar is a quick thinker and unfazed, he introduces his team as income tax officers, berates Kher for coming to wrong address and changes his target instantly. When the heist is over, he actually seeks the help of real CBI cops to carry the loot to his vehicle. The news reaches Bajpai, making him even more determined to catch the team.

Aggarwal‘s wedding cards are printed and with the day nearing. Kumar plans his last big hit. It is the biggest jewellery shop in Mumbai, run by Tikku Talsania. However, he needs a huge team to carry out this job. He inserts a classified in a newspaper for aspiring young men and women for a job in CBI. Everything is carried out impressively. The candidates are interviewed at a five-star hotel and 26 candidates selected. They are to be trained next day in a two-hour lecture and finally tested in a raid which Kumar calls ‘Practical Training‘. Bajpai is in Mumbai along with Shergill keeping an eye on the happenings. He plants two of his own men in the team of 26. Thus is set up the climax, where Kumar and his gang will either escape or be caught.

Special 26 sets a good pace with its first heist. One expects that pace to continue but that does not happen. The film goes onto dwell in the personal lives of the main protagonists. The second heist too is interesting but the proceedings quickly slow down again as Kumar plans his last trick. Finally, when it happens, the last raid makes the final half hour interesting and something to take away from the film.

Coming from Neeraj Pandey, whose "A Wednesday" was a thrilling experience, Special 26 falls short on that count as it sags at times. It has Kumar but no scope for romance, music or action. The story does not go into the background of its characters nor how they came together. But overall the direction is good with an eye for details and in keeping with the ambience of 1980s.

Performance wise, the film has unanimously good shows by all the actors. Kumar with his deadpan poker face is convincing as a CBI officer. Kher is excellent. So are Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam. Manoj Bajpai as the determined CBI officer is very good. Jimmy Shergill, though cast in a side character, underplays very well. Divya Dutta, with just one line to speak every time, lends able support. Kajal Aggrwal has little to do.

Special 26 has earned good reports and needs to improve over the weekend when it will require a huge leap at the box office to guarantee safe returns.

ABCD: Any Body Can Dance 3-D Review

Producers: Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur.

Director: Remo D‘Souza.

Cast: Prabhudheva, Kay Kay Menon, Ganesh Acharya, Dharmesh Yelonde, Salman Yussuf Khan, Lauren Gottlieb, Noorin Shah, Vrushali Chavan, Bhawna Khanduja, Punit Pathak, Mayuresh Wadkar, Sushant Pujar, Prince, Firoz Khan.

ABCD: Any Body Can Dance is the first musical/ dance film in 3-D, which is used mainly in dance scenes. A dance film needs a cause, a challenge and a desire to do better than others. Prabhudheva, the master choreographer and dancer, finds all three when he is betrayed by his partner.

Prabhudheva is a choreographer at Jehangir Dance Academy, run by Kay Kay Menon. The academy always wins first spot on a major TV dance competition. The competition is in its final round and, as usual, Menon‘s academy wins. However, Prabhudheva is not satisfied with the performance of the team of dancers he trained and says as much to his boss. Menon‘s answer is that it is not dancing that wins awards; it needs some manipulation, marketing and presentation. To this end, Menon has a plan to employ the services of a foreign choreographer and sideline Prabhudheva. Feeling let down by Menon, he decides to leave and head home to Chennai; after all he had built the academy.

Prabhudheva books his ticket to Chennai but in the meanwhile takes refuge with Ganesh Acharya, a wannabe choreographer. Acharya does not want him to give up so easily and forces him to stay back and build a new team of dancers. Prabhudheva notices a few boys from the basti being chased by cops. He is impressed with the acrobatics and agility they use to dodge the cops. Later, he sees the same boys dancing during a Ganesh festival. He finds some hope in this bunch and decides to train them. The local politician provides him with a warehouse which is soon turned into a dance studio. There is rivalry between two groups in the basti so as one group of boys join the training, the other merely watches from the outside. Eventually, as they watch the process, they also join for after all there is a dancer in all of them and Prabhudheva‘s conviction is that Any Body Can Dance. The latest addition to the studio is a drug addict being chased by the police; he decides to mingle with the dancers to avoid the police. Not convinced he is one of the dancers, the police ask him to demonstrate. Funnily, his demonstration of dance is like an addict deprived of his regular fix. However, Prabhudheva sees a potential dancer in him too, one with a spark to become the lead dancer.

The job looks near impossible as the dancers fumble and fall and keep fighting among themselves. There is no trust between the rival groups. Even in the elimination round, they start fighting on stage. They are instantly disqualified but Menon is delighted. He asks the organiser not to disqualify Prabhudheva‘s dancers as they can be the jokers of the competition and make people laugh. Menon wants to see Prabhudheva humiliated publicly. The disqualification is revoked. Prabhudheva is livid but decides to start all over again. He does that by first ending the enmity in the groups. Unless they unite, they cannot be a team.

With the group ready and as if to rebuff Menon‘s taunt, they come dressed as jokers and get into second round and, eventually, into the decider. Now Menon sees tough competition for his academy; he tries to break Prabhudheva‘s group with handsome offers. The boys decline because they don‘t want to let their master down. The final round is announced but some manipulation by Menon has resulted in his team taking the opening slot which was otherwise allotted to Prabhdheva‘s dancers. Menon‘s dancers put up the same dance Prabudheva has choreographed for his dancers. Unknown to them, Menon had managed to lure at least one of their dancers who had given away his team‘s routine. Prabhudheva and his dancers have just ten minutes to think up a new routine before they are called on to stage. Prabhudheva tells them to go back to their roots, asking them to dance like they did on the streets at Ganpati. He wants them to dance like all Indians dance, with no rules or routine.

This final dance and the one before that are the highlight of ABCD. After all, this is a dance musical and a story of a betrayed artiste and the underdogs he nurtures; when an underdog is contesting, the masses root for them. The final dance takes a bit from parts of India but is centred on a Ganesh stuti. Everybody loves Shri Ganesh and it turns out to be the masterstroke.

ABCD is all about choreography and creating an atmosphere for music and dances. Director Remo D‘souza does that wonderfully. The disco number and the last two dances are excellent; the crowds are ably arranged and handled. The new talent in Dharmesh Yelonde, Salman Yussuf Khan, Lauren Gottlieb, Noorin Shah, Vrushali Chavan, Bhawna Khanduja, Punit Pathak, Mayuresh Wadkar, Sushant Pujar and Prince and Firoz Khan live up to expectations with their dances. Of the veterans, Prabhudheva plays the various shades and phases he passes through with total conviction. Kay Kay Menon in a small negative role is good. Ganesh Acharya is not much of an actor; he overacts. The expenses show in the costumes and sets as well as crowd scenes. Though tacky in parts, ABCD makes up with its second half and the climax.

ABCD: Any Body Can Dance has a huge appeal for youth and masses and will have smooth sailing at the box office. The film‘s opening is very good.

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