Film: "Knock Out"; Director: Mani Shankar; Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Irrfan Khan, Kangna Ranaut, Sushant Singh; Rating: ***
"Phone Booth" be damned. "Knock Out" goes into places that the supposed source of inspiration can't even dream about. Forget what you've heard, forget the flak and fury about copyrights. Go see "Knock Out" for the engaging edge-of-the-seat treatment that writer-director Mani Shankar has given to the collectively comatose conscience of the nation.
The breathless political thriller starts off as just another day in the life of a high-profile wheeler-dealer Bachu (Irrfan), who expedites multi-score scams for the powerful, corrupt politician.
Bachu, who definitely seems to be having a bad hair day, makes the cardinal mistake of getting into a phone booth for a bit of pow-wow with his powerful friends in the government. That's when trouble begins.
"Knock Out" builds up into a walloping slash-of-life swipe, sometimes savage elsewhere satirical, at the monstrous levels of corruption that has seeped into our political and everyday life.
The facts seem to be on the director's fingertips. He confidently takes us through a startling labyrinth of false leads and blood-red herrings that suggest a deep and disturbing link between the growing disregard for the common man's needs and a simultaneous growth in the graph of corruption in Indian politics.
Mani Shankar creates an arresting format of dialogue-based interaction between the unkempt Bachu, who becomes symbolic of all the middlemen in the business of politics who unwittingly end up selling chunks of our nation and its conscience to unscrupulous politicians, and a mysterious vigilante-styled, one-man anti-corruption bureau played by Sanjay Dutt.
Dutt's entry into the volatile cat-and-mouse chase signals an adrenaline-pumping momentum in the plot. He doesn't have much movement to do until the climax when he locks limbs with a martial-arts stuntman with panther-like agility.
Yup, this is what Dutt should be doing more often. His anti-corruption voice is supported by some hard-hitting dialogues on how the British colonizers cleaned out our coffers in 150 years while Indian politicians have done the same in 70 years.
The rhetorics are woven into the gripping plot without stressful attempts to sound like the nation's conscience. The patriotic pride of Mani Shankar's treatise on corruption and redemption emerges effortlessly, to merge with the larger responsibility of the filmmaker to entertain the audience.
What starts off as a thriller in a phone booth builds up into a riveting morality tale. Besides Dutt and Irrfan, incidental characters who show up at the venue of the bizarre hold-up also create a high interest-level in the goings-on.
Sushant Singh, playing a cop who won't succumb to corruption and therefore loses his life, and Apoorva Lakhia, as a ruthless immoral establishment-monster, are just two of the characters who lend a blend of immediacy and topicality to the relentless chase-phase that the film assumes.
There is a restrained rabble-rousing element in the storytelling. The anti-corruption statement never comes in the way of telling a story that in many ways defines the enough-is-enough attitude of a nation on the brink of damnation.
Like the character that Dutt plays, director Mani Shankar has always depended on technology to sustain his cinema. His earlier well-scripted film "Mukhbiir" suffered for the lack of a decent budget. "Knock Out" is done on a level of high-intensity credibility. It's not so much the method and craft as a heart that genuinely beats for a corruption-free India that gives "Knock Out" a flavour of pulsating patriotism.
Watch it to get entertained while creating a world where a politician ironically named Bapu (Gulshan Grover) goes on an international rampage at the the cost of the national exchequer.
Not just a film with a heart, "Knock Out" has a conscience too.