The movie Knock Out has been widely known for its uncanny connection with the 2002 Joel Schumacher directed Hollywood psychological thriller Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell, Radha Mitchell and Katie Holmes; the trailers and promos of the film have suggested it unabashedly. Plus, the recent controversy of the distributor Fox Studios requesting a copy of Knock Out’s screenplay to double-check further instigates potential movie watchers to question their decision. But looking at the track record of Mani Shankar – the auteur at the helm of this flick’s affairs – one has to agree that most of Shankar’s movies (notable ones being 16th December (2002), Rudraksh (2003), and Mukhbiir (2008)) in Hindi cinema have had superior execution, and have always dealt with hard-hitting issues and burning topics like never before. So does this movie succeed in putting its message – about black money – forward to the audience successfully? You bet it does! And the good news is despite the glaring unavoidable references to Phone Booth, the movie is not the least bit like it.
A lone ranger (Sanjay Dutt) holds an investment banker at a phone booth from 11 am to 1 pm and triggers an act that will change India’s history and expose corruption like never before. Mani Shankar has written a watertight screenplay to a complex, well-layered story, with bits and pieces of new twists appearing every few minutes in the movie either through short one-minute flashbacks or through sudden changes in character. And with a run-time of almost two hours, it turns out to be just the right amount of edge-of-your-seat. Dialogues by Shiraz Ahmed are commendable and the dry humor used in some phases of the overlong conversation between Dutt’s and Khan’s characters nail it right in the head. In fact, the humor is so well placed in the scenes (Irrfan Khan dancing to Zara Zara Touch Me is a classic testimony) you’d want to laugh out loud!
Technically, this is one of Mani’s best works post 16th December. Cinematography by N. Naratajan Subramanium not only succeeds in getting the right frame but also in showing Mumbai like the most glamorous metropolitan in the universe! Camerawork, be it the smooth or the steadicam shots, up the gloss factor of the film. Editing by Make Films is slick, with all those split screens making the movie look all the more stylish and add to the intensity of the film. Visual effects and motion graphics for the opening title card deserve two thumbs up. Production design by Priya Suhas is impressive, especially the art direction phase, assisted by Sanjay Suvarna; makes me hope there’s one of those cool looking phone booths in Mumbai. Styling for the lead characters in the film nails it right in the head – the clothes suit the characters and the characters suit the style they’re donning.
The decision of not including music from the soundtrack and making a song-less film turned out to be an intelligent one by the makers of the film (though I still wonder why did they rope in Gourov Dasgupta and make a music album when they could have released an OST with the background score instead, as it is this part of the action movie that impressed me); Sanjay Wandrekar and Atul Raninga have done a good job trying to increase the intensity of each scene of the movie with their music. Action by Allan Amin is terrifically choreographed. Stunts by Joey Ansah and Silva are mind-blowing.
Though Mani’s previous works have been commendable enough, they’ve contained technical flaws, but here, the only glitch is the threatening tilt of the film to look like one with a forced preachy message. But the style of Mani Shankar is such - as the film starts to get jingoistic he starts making the frame of events faster and adds in a new twist. Other than that, flaws are hard to find. And as mentioned, there are a few uncanny references to Phone Booth (which could also be co-incidental), but since the film is not a remake, Mani Shankar’s tagline of an original auteur remains.
Mani Shankar has yet again made a film on a social topic hitherto unexplored in this style. The idea of black money can sound exciting on paper but for bringing out such a sensitive topic on screen you have to applaud him. This is a well-written, well-executed action thriller that will keep you guessing right from the start till the end. Right from the underplayed prologue till the text-supported epilogue, you end up being glued to the seat. This one’s worth the ticket price, as you get performances from a horde of impressive star cast, style, and a whole lot of substance too. And though he chooses a topic that makes you think, he doesn’t fail in entertaining you.