About the story: Tony Khosla, called Bachchu (Irrfan), a cunning and unscrupulous investment banker, works for the corrupt central minister Bapuji (Gulshan Grover) who sees politics as a business and hoards immense sums of black money on several accounts of the Euro Swiss Bank in Zurich. This morning, Tony is to deliver cash to Bapuji's election workers; for security reasons he gets their addresses by a call via a public telephone in a phone booth. But before he can leave the box, he is called by an unknown man (Sanjay Dutt) who demonstrates to Tony that he observes him and will shoot him if he does not everything the unknown man commands. Soon the police and the media take notice of the drama in the phone booth – and so does Bapuji who, with all available means, wants to avert that Tony's connection with him is revealed which, so it seems, is just what the unknown shooter wants...
"Phone Booth rip-off" howled the media soon after Mani Shankar started shooting for his film, despite the director's repeated assurance that the motive of a man trapped in a phone booth by a shooter is the only commonality of his film and that Hollywood movie. Finally, a few days before the release, the makers of Phone Booth filed a complaint against Knock Out for copyright violence and won – allegedly Knock Out was a scene-to-scene copy of Phone Booth. Well, I still don't see how this is possible as the story of Phone Booth, as far as I know, does not deal with politics, corruption and money laundering (yes, I admit that I haven't seen Phone Booth), but in any case the damage was enormous; though the producers were allowed to release their film after a restraining order, the atmosphere against the film was heated up and Knock Out flopped at the box office – in spite of several critics who damned the rip-off theories and considered Knock Out as even better than Phone Booth.
As I said, I cannot judge this, but at the end of the day Knock Out meant two hours of great entertainment for me, and that's what counts in my humble opinion. Mani Shankar had a special reason to make this political thriller: "The film is partly based on what I saw and heard when I was on the staff in the Prime Minister’s office between 1994-1995. As part of his advisory team during my travels all over the world with the PM, I heard things that never left my mind. I knew some day I’d make a film about what I knew from the whispers in the corridors of power," he revealed at the beginning of the shooting. Along the lines of "Let's knock out this system – we must bring our money back" Knock Out is a real time thriller (11 am to 1 pm) without any songs – an item song shot with Mahi Gill was excluded from the film as well as the title song picturized on Sanjay Dutt which was used only for the promotions. Thus Shankar manages to keep you on the edge of your seats continuously for two hours.
He could also rely on two fabulous protagonists, Sanjay Dutt and Irrfan Khan, who never met on the sets but nevertheless delivered their dialogues as if their opponent was in front if them and they could interact directly – a top achievement! Sanjay plays his part masterfully, with calm and considerate serenity and sometimes with a little twinkle in his eye. He even did a martial arts scene with the British action choreographer Joey Ansah who personally fought the hand-to-hand combat with Sanjay (like he did with Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum), and watching Sanjay answering Joey's Karate with his abilities in Jiu Jitsu and Chow Lin Foot leaves no doubt that he unlearned nothing and still is great in action, even with over 50.
Irrfan changes from the slick banker to a helpless man who literally talks for his life and in the end outgrows himself. He also gets the film's most delightsome scene when Sanjay makes him dance in public. Marvellous! Against these two great performers the rest of cast doesn't have it easy; the most impressing impact is left by Sushant Singh who plays the honest policeman Vikram completely natural and without any antics and thus gets your attention in a positive way. Kangna Ranaut as TV reporter Nidhi Srivastav delivers a good performance. Gulshan Grover manages to make the corrupt minister credible and dangerous; a weaker actor than him would probably have started hamming the minister's angry outbursts. All the others, from Rukhsar as Tony's wife Lakshmi to director-turned-actor Apoorva Lakhia as encounter specialist Ranvir Singh, don't have very much to do. The attention focusses completely on the duel of Sanjay and Irrfan. And this duel is just great. Too bad that they didn't have a chance to interact directly in this film. Let's hope for another chance in another film; I would love to see Sanjay and Irrfan together on screen again.
Produced by AAP Entertainment Ltd. Sohail Maklai; Directed by Mani Shankar
111 Min.; DVD: Moserbaer, English Subtitles
The making of 'Knock Out' - Part 01
The making of 'Knock Out' - Part 02