The breathless political thriller starts off as just another day in the life of a high-profile wheeler-dealer Bachu (Irrfan, definitely going through a bad-hair day in more ways than one) who expedites multi-score scams for the powerful (and therefore) corrupt politician. Bachu makes the cardinal mistake of getting into an, ahem ahem, 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 symbolical of all the middlemen in the business of political 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 and more immediate 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 (magnetic) and Irrfan (interesting) 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 lose 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 seriously entertained while creating a world where a politician ironically named Bapu (Gulshan Grover) goes on an international rampage at the cost of the national exchequer.
Not just a film with a heart, Knock Out has a conscience too.