The second film of a director or an actor is often more difficult than the first. His first movie comes without the baggage of expectations. If it makes a mark critically and commercially, it's a bonus. However, this proves to be a burden for his next project because his second movie is then critically analysed and unfairly compared. If it doesn't match up to the expectations, he is immediately dismissed as a 'one-film' wonder.
Neeraj Pandey would surely identify with this feeling. In 2007, he came in from nowhere and made a movie that blew everyone away – 'A Wednesday'. Given the debate and discussion it raised, he could have easily fallen into a trap. That is, cashed in on the fame, made a sequel, signed a big fat deal with a studio, get big stars and made three films in three years.
Instead, he waited for the perfect script, spent five years doing research and made a movie he truly believed in. The wait has been worth it – 'Special Chabbis' Neeraj's second film is a smart, worthy follow-up to 'A Wednesday'.
The plot, as has been well publicised, is set in the 80s when a group of conmen posing as fake CBI, IT and police officers, raided several businessmen and politicians and made away with the booty. Their victims would never file an FIR for that would end up exposing their corrupt deeds. Once the act is over, the men would disperse and go back to their mundane lives only to re-group a few years later for the next heist.
Akshay Kumar leads a band of merry men (Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma and Kishore Kadam) whose ordinariness and middle class lifestyle makes them the most unexpected conmen. Anupam is a father of many children who is worried about his eldest daughter's wedding gifts. Rajesh Sharma lives in an old Jaipur house where family members believe in community sleeping arrangements. Kishore Kadam is a hen pecked husband whose days are spent washing clothes for his wife. However, when they get together they make for a crack team – that, despite the nervousness and occasional slip ups – manage to pull off some daring con jobs across the country with aplomb.
Things go well for this group until they plan their biggest theft – a jewellery shop at Mumbai's famed Opera House. By this time, a real CBI officer Manoj Bajpayee, a suspended police officer Jimmy Shergill and his assistant Divya Dutta are hot on their heels. Will the group manage to pull it off? Or will the law finally catch up with them? But wait, there is a twist in the tale which no one could have guessed!
Heist films are not a very common genre in Bollywood and the rare occasions, when they have been made, they have made a mockery of the theme. Abbas-Mustan's 'Players' being a case in point. What sets 'Special Chabbis' apart is its smart writing. Steering away from stereotypes, the film delights because of its hardcore desi appeal, be it in the dialogues, characterisation and of course, the period it's set in.
In fact, special mention must be made of the detailing - an aspect most neglected in Hindi films. From Maruti 800s and Omnis to dial phones, from lijjat papad ad jingles to Ambassador and Fiat cars, from floral printed frocks to 'Nagina' posters there is not a single frame that doesn't belong to the late '80s.
It doesn't mean the film is without flaws. The entire romantic track in the first half doesn't work and the movie could have done without the songs. But these are minor points and can be forgiven in the overall picture.
A good film needs good performances and that's another area where 'Special Chabbis' scores in a big way. Akshay Kumar, in a marked departure from his 'Rowdy Rathore' and 'Housefull 2' acts impresses in his role. He is cocky, confident and funny and shares great chemistry with Anupam Kher. Of course, the ever-dependable Anupam does full justice to his lines. Rajesh Kumar and Kishore Kadam are perfectly cast. Though he has a small role, the much-neglected Jimmy Shergill shines. Divya Dutta has precisely five dialogues but they are enough to showcase her talent. Kajal Aggarwal doesn't have much to do.
The real star of the show is Manoj Bajpayee. The supremely talented actor emotes with his eyes and practically owns every scene he is in. He deserves much more than what he gets from Bollywood!
Finally, the film is a big victory for Neeraj Pandey who proves that 'A Wednesday' was no flash in the pan. Here is a filmmaker willing to push the envelope and think out of the box. Amidst a flood of 100-crore nonsensical films, these are the voices that Bollywood needs to hear more often.