SPECIAL 26

We were waiting for director Neeraj Pandey’s new film after his much talked about A Wednesday some four years ago and this Friday he is back with a crime caper that is more than adequate. Based on real life incidents that happened in the 1980s, Special 26 is about a gang of four which go about posing as Income Tax and Central Bureau of Investigation officers to raid corrupt politicians and businessmen and decamp with the booty.

Since the promos have revealed a little too much, one has to see the film for the modus operandi and motivations rather than the crime itself. While the former is riveting, the latter doesn’t assimilate well into the narrative.

Between the lines, Pandey is trying to say that our concerns haven’t changed much in the past few decades. Corruption was the issue then and it continues to prick us today. His honest policeman is looking for promotion and hike in pay, and the young one is hitting back at the system when it doesn’t allow him to get in. It is this tone that makes us go back in time to relive the series of heists that the gang plots to perfection. It is special because it captures the ordinariness of the times in a way that is exciting. You don’t realise how time flies: a big plus for the caper.

Technique has not been his forte, but Pandey manages to deceive! His use of outdoors is excellent and Bobby Singh’s camerawork creates a sense of urgency. Pandey has created Kolkata in Delhi’s Jama Masjid area, but you can’t figure it out. Like in A Wednesday , Pandey frequents rooftops and uses visual effects to good effect to cheat. The best is the opening raid sequence and the recreation of Connaught Place of the 1980s with Manoj Bajpai running between cars and autos of the ‘80s vintage. It is special because it is sleek but not flashy.

Pandey has chiselled his characters with a lot of thought. Their actions are thrilling, but their lives have very little of it. One makes babies when he is not on the “job,” another is a hen-pecked husband, and the mastermind Ajay Singh (Akshay Kumar) is planning to elope with the girl next door.

Watching them you forget that they are into a con. It seems they are in some regular job, but once the fraud begins they are like men possessed. The problem begins when Pandey tries to weave in the back stories of his protagonists and forces a love story into the plot and expects us to pause and listen to M. M. Kreem’s tunes. It seems like an after-thought and makes the whole exercise a tad superficial. No doubt Kajal Aggarwal tries to salvage the situation as the girl you can cheat for, but the punch goes limp. Sometimes you get a feeling that Pandey is sitting next to you and nudging, “See, the details I have incorporated” pointing to the ‘Thril’ advertisement on the bus stop. Yes, the cold drink most of us have forgotten.

The characters that stand out are Sharmaji (Anupam Kher) and Wasim Khan (Manoj). Khan is so much into his job that he even drops his boy to the school bus running, but when he dozes off on duty or asks his wife to put on her dupatta you know Pandey is dealing with humans. Sharmaji’s regular transition from a weak soul to a tough cookie is fascinating. The scene where Khan enters Sharma’s room to call his bluff stands out.

For a change, Akshay is restrained and shows he has got some Sangharsh left in him. But the star’s presence also means we have to endure an unnecessary love story. Jimmy Shergill, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam lend good support to create an atmosphere of believability and trick us into an unanticipated climax.

ABCD: ANYBODY

CAN DANCE

For long we have been waiting for a film around contemporary dance forms which have emerged on the scene in the past decade, courtesy the dance-based reality shows on television. Once upon a time we had films like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Navrang , where dance played a crucial role in taking the narrative forward. Now after a long gap choreographer-turned-director Remo D’ Souza, who is regularly seen as a judge on reality TV shows, has come up with a film that is flaky in content but has enough to keep you interested if you are a fan of hip-hop or B-boying. Remo draws liberally from the Step Up series and tries to see the situations in Indian conditions.

So we have a choreographer Vishnu (Prabhu Deva) who is booted out from a reputed dance academy run by a shrewd businessman, Jahangir (Kay Kay Menon), for he sees dance as a form to impress while Vishnu calls it a means of expression. Vishnu goes to the grassroots, picks a set of boys and girls and challenges Jahangir’s boys on a popular reality show. In between we have usual concerns of local politics, jealousy over love, drug addiction, that affect the unity of the dance group. Then there is a Muslim boy D (Dharmesh), whose father doesn’t want him to take dance as a profession. Remo has ticked off all expected plot points and fails to surprise with the treatment. He has cast actual dancers and choreographers for important roles. So besides Prabhu, we have Ganesh Acharya as his buddy, and Dharmesh and Salman, the two winners of a popular dance-based reality show, to take the narrative forward. Interestingly, like Remo both Ganesh and Prabhu are directors now. It helps in making the dance sequences believable, but when it comes to emotional outbursts the masters of steps are found wanting in choreographing emotions.

Prabhu manages to underplay, but the effort shows when he faces Kay Kay. Ganesh matches his size in loudness and Dharmesh’s eyes refuse to express anything. Anybody might dance but anybody can’t emote!

We expected Remo to bring in an insider’s knowledge of how these shows operate. But apart from one or two manoeuvrings of Jahangir, he hasn’t really gone into details. The one that stands out is the way how moneybags and “funny” participants are allowed to overshadow talent. 3D is just for gimmicks and the dance movements begin to get repetitive towards the end. A must for the addicts of reality TV shows, but for the rest of us there is enough reality elsewhere to catch up this week on screen.

LINCOLN

Adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “ Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln ”, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is set around the 16th U.S. President’s tumultuous months in office after he was elected for a second term. It is the time where he pursues a course of action designed to end the bloody Civil War, unite the country and abolish slavery by pushing for the 13{+t}{+h}Amendment against all odds.

Republicans see it as a carrot that should be dangled as long as the war doesn’t end and the Democrats are against abolishment for it will lead to universal franchise and greater political space for the four million marginalised. It is not that simple as there are moderates among Republicans and extremists among Democrats.

Spielberg holds your hand through a maze of realpolitik without oversimplifying. It is like Lincoln telling Congressman Thaddeus Stevens “when the compass shows North it doesn’t tell about the trenches and the marshes that will come in the way”. Lincoln uses the radical Abolitionist Congressman to put his point through. Played well by Tommy Lee Jones, Stevens doesn’t really trust Lincoln, but when Lincoln tells him there is nothing absolute in this world he is left speechless.

Spielberg does something similar with us. It is this underlying politics that makes Lincoln relevant in these times of Obama and makes it a favourite at this year’s Oscars. As it demystifies the American political mind, it reminds that you can stand up to horse trading, that nobility is not an overrated virtue in politics and that you can take the most difficult decisions when you are most popular. Yes, at times it sounds insular but that is imperative in a narrative designed to bring out the greater good.

The volatile parliament debates are absolutely riveting. In between, Spielberg nicely captures the husband and father in the most loved man in his country and quietly unravels the erudite side of the President who didn’t have formal education. It is not a biopic but gives a solid idea of the man he was. The scene where he quotes Euclid — if two things are equal to the same thing they are equal to each other — settles the superiority debate or argument of natural right in an instant. Mind you, Euclid was a mathematician; it is Lincoln who humanises what was essentially said about numbers.

It is almost impossible to find Daniel-Day Lewis in Lincoln. It is rare to find such submergence of an actor into the character. Together with Spielberg he brings Lincoln down from the pedestal of an icon to someone you can touch and feel. Someone who polishes off arguments while polishing his shoes.

It is relevant. It is relatable. Don’t miss a date with Lincoln!