It is January 1987, tens of thousands of Indians line the broad boulevards of New Delhi to watch the Republic Day Parade. Elsewhere in the city, four officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation and several policemen, carry out a raid on a minister’s house. They are looking for black money, money that has been withheld from the IRS. They tear the minister’s home apart; finding false closets and doors – and lots of money. They efficiently place the money into trunks, have the minister sign an official document, and leave. We soon find out that they are not CBI officers at all, but con men, and they have just conned the minister. But, the minister can’t file a complaint about money he has not declared. The con men are quick, efficient, and professional. They all meet back at a prearranged location, change out of their uniforms and into street clothes, split the money, and go their separate ways.
The gang is quite diverse. Ajay Singh (Akshay Kumar), is the mastermind of the gang of four. He comes up with the jobs and plans them out in detail. He is not married, but he is in love with the girl next door. Priya (Kajal Aggarwal) also loves Ajay, despite knowing that he is a thief, and despite her impending marriage. Second in command, P.K. Sharma (Anupam Kher),is not quite as cool and intelligent as Ajay, but he is older and comes across as a quiet figure of authority. He lives in Chandigarh with his wife and eight children. Iqbal (Kishore Kadam) is henpecked at home, so his double life risk-taking serves as an escape. Joginder (Rajesh Sharma) lives with his very large family.
They have been at this game for several years and are starting to feel that they should quit while they are ahead. Ajay decides to plan one more big job. But now, they have caught the attention of real CBI agent Wasim Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) and humiliated policeman Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Shergall), who, it seems, has unknowingly helped Ajay carry out his plot against the minister. Khan and Singh are obsessed with bringing the gang to justice.
Akshay Kumar has been a top Hindi star for two decades, making a name for himself in comedy/action roles. Playing the role of the master thief, Akshay plays it understated, serious, calm under pressure, thinking on his feet when something goes wrong, and showing the preoccupation of a man who is always thinking of the next big heist. Anupam Kher, excellent as Sharma, is much more emotional than Ajay. The viewer is never quite sure if he will mess the job up or not because of his nervousness. In the end, you realize his ability as an actor, that he can act tense and vulnerable at will, is what makes him a great con man.
Writer, director Neeraj Pandey captures the period of the 1980’s with vehicles, clothing, etc. His story is based on a real gang of thieves who pulled off jobs in the 70’s and 80’s, and were never captured. And, although ‘Special 26’ is strictly a caper movie it does include some good songs: an enjoyable wedding dance number ‘Gore Mukhde Pe’, and the pretty ‘Mujh Mein tu hi tu Basa’. ‘Special 26’ is fast-paced, intelligent, and fun.