The number appended to the title isn’t exactly apt in the context of the actor’s career, but it is a film that has given 45-year-old Bollywood star Akshay Kumar a fillip of a pleasantly different kind. It has taken him 22 long years to come upon a film as special as Special 26. And the wait has been worth it.
Akshay, who made his acting debut in 1991 with the nondescript Saugandh before hitting his straps the following year in Khiladi, has garnered widespread critical accolades for his deft performance in the Neeraj Pandey-directed thriller.
In the film, he sheds his starry mannerisms to take the most diehard detractors by surprise. Movie critics had all but given up hope of the Singh is Kinng star ever being part of a cinematic project that would dare to go beyond the safety net of mainstream Bollywood action flicks and comedies.
He has defied all expectations by accepting a role that is variance with his established on-screen persona — that of an all-out action star (like in Rowdy Rathore) or a comic hero(like in Hera Pheri and Housefull).Special 26 takes its premise from a daring real-life heist that a posse of conmen posing as income tax officials pulled off in a jewellery store in the heart of Mumbai in 1987. Akshay is cast as the kingpin of the group that hatches the improbable plot, commits the crime and makes a clean getaway.
The only concession that the film makes to the actor’s established
image is in the form of a romantic track involving a lower middle-class school teacher that the con artist is in love with. But for the most part,Akshay wears the deglamorised garb of a wily crook bent upon making a fast buck. Coming after a bunch of films that have done his reputation as an actor little good even as they have boosted his commercial brand value, Special 26 has projected Akshay in a completely new light. The enthusiastic mass response that the film has received could alter the
course of the star’s career, at least in the short term.
Akshay has had his share of box office duds in recent years. Yet, his crowd-pulling power has never ever been in question. What many fans have, however, despaired over is the kind of utterly brainless movies he has been appearing in over the past decade or so. And that is why Special 26 is truly significant: it marks a clean break from his obsession with the trashy blockbusters that often let him down. In 2012 itself, he was part of the hideous monstrosity called Joker. When the film hit the screens, the joke was entirely on Akshay and he had a hard time explaining to his constituency why he had opted to lend his presence to a garbled fantasy that had nightmare written all over it.
Barring the satire Oh My God!,which, incidentally, was bankrolled by the star himself, none of the releases that he figured in last year — Housefull 2, Rowdy Rathore and Khiladi 786, the first two of which made nearly $20 million each at the box office – could be described as quality films that he could be proud of. Many of his recent releases (like Tashan, Chandni Chowk to China,Kambakkht Ishq, Action Replayy, Tees Maar Khan and Blue) have become bywords for cinematic profligacy. If his career has not veered completely off track, it is simply because many of his films, no matter how abominable they have been in artistic terms, have made pots of money.
The list of such “successful” films is long: Bhagam Bhag, Namastey
London, Heyy Babyy, Welcome, and Desi Boyz. No Bollywood actor in living memory has probably done as many bad films and has yet been consistently rewarded for them.
Akshay’s journey from being a small-time cook in a Bangkok eatery to emerging as Bollywood’s trusted khiladi was certainly dramatic enough. But no less spectacular was his transformation from just another Mumbai movie hunk to a Box office PowerHouse spoken of in the same breath as the three Khans — Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman — that have steadily ruled the Bollywood roost for well over a decade and a half.
What does Akshay have in store for his fans in 2013? Apart from a film that he has signed up to for Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions —details of the project are still under wraps – it seems he has at least
two roles that could add to his growing standing as an actor of
In the sequel to Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Akshay will be seen taking forward the role of the rising mafia don that Emraan Hashmi played in the first film. He has been cast as a gang lord with a golden heart in yet another upcoming film – Boss. But it will see a first for Akshay’s career: the film has no leading lady opposite him. It is quite apparent that Akshay Kumar is seeking to reinvent himself as he grows older. The success of Special 26 may have strengthened his resolve.