Film Knock Out

What saved Knock Out from being another Rann or Halla bol is the tight script with dashes of humour and patriotism.  When I left the theatre, I thought I was going to throw Knock Out in my shopping cart for original movies, until I read on-line that there was a court case against it.

Knock Out accused of stealing a Hollywood film
Knock Out takes place in a designer telephone booth in India, all steel and chrome and bullet-proof at the bottom.  One of the Hollywood giants 20th Century Fox, took AAP Entertainment to court alleging copyright infringement of its film Phone Booth.  I left Hollywood years ago, so I did not screen it.  Sohail Maklai, Knock Out’s producer was told to pay Rs. 1.5 crore to the producers of Phone Booth.

I did not know all that when I screened the film.  I thought Mani Shankar, who wrote the story and also directed the film did a decent job in holding my attention for two hours.  A film is a tapestry of characters and locations.  Very few films happen in one location, a phone booth in this case. 

The fact that I was not bored with the same old familiar scenes:  a sniper on top of a building, a reporter who wants the story, the police inspector who is under pressure from his seniors, the men in khakhi armed and dangerous, the megaphone, the corrupt politician etcetera, means the screenplay worked.

Tony Khosla (Irrfan Khan) is the man in the booth.  He uses the public phone for his shady deals.  He is the front man for Bapuji, a corrupt politician played by Gulshan Grover.  After two distractions, which also included a drug addict, Tony Khosla leaves the booth.  The phone rings and he takes the call, thinking that it is one of his illegal contacts.

The voice on the phone calls him Bachchu and knows everything about him, how he cheats on his wife, how he bought shoes in Dubai, how he bought his Rolex in London cash, how he drugged a young girl and raped her leading to her suicide and how he has money stashed in his red van for delivery. 

Who is shooting at me?
Tony is frustrated because the owner of the voice (Sanjay Dutt) can see him but he cannot.  He tries to leave the telephone booth but the sniper shoots him.  Tony turns on his tried and tested strategy to solve his problem.  Money.  The sniper raises the stakes so much, Tony realises that the sniper does not want money.

A crowd has gathered around the telephone booth because the sniper killed a drug addict who tried to rob Tony.  Vikram (Sushant Singh), the police inspector in charge of the case tries to get Tony out of the telephone booth.  He thinks Tony killed the drug addict.  Nidhi (Kangna Ranaut), a television reporter comes to the scene.  She notices that there are holes in the telephone booth.  She alerts Vikram that there is someone shooting at the telephone booth.

Tony gets very agitated when the sniper tells him about his boss Bapuji the corrupt politician.  He tells Tony how Bapuji sells girls into prostitution.  He tells him about Bapuji’s Swiss bank accounts.

Politicians’ numbered accounts in Swiss Banks
I switched to the reverse mode, to the beginning of the film when Bapuji went to Switzerland to open a bank account.  The bank official gave him a card with the number of his account.  Bapuji , who was busy eating Swiss chocolates gave it to man we did not see.  That man memorised the account number then took a cigarette lighter and burned it.  Bapuji therefore does not know the number of his own account.  There is one man who knows and he is trapped in a telephone booth.

The sniper says Tony must return the money in the van to the people of India.  Tony freaks out because he knows what Bapuji will do to him.  The sniper turns on the patriotism muzzle full throttle.  He tells Tony how the British robbed India for 150 years and how politicians have stolen more in the 60 years of independence.

The stakes are so high in this telephone booth drama, Bapuji calls his friend the corrupt police chief.  He tells Vikram to kill Tony Khosla.  Vikram refuses.  He hands in his badge and Bapuji’s hired killer kills him in cold blood.

The whole country is now glued to television because the sniper wants Tony to return the money Bapuji stashed away in Swiss accounts.  Knock Out might have borrowed the idea from Phone Booth, but the issue of African, Indian and other politicians stealing from their countries and hiding the money is Switzerland is a debate that flares up from time to time.  It is a problem that can never be solved because of offshore banks and the Swiss banking system in particular.

This is how Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia defines an offshore bank, “An offshore bank is a bank located outside the country of residence of the depositor, typically in a low tax jurisdiction (or tax haven) that provides financial and legal advantages.  These advantages typically include greater privacy (see also bank secrecy, a principle born with the 1934 Swiss Banking Act)."

The film has an interesting ending because we know who Sanjay Dutt’s character is, but Nidhi the reporter doesn’t know, in fact all the characters in the film don’t.  Only us.

Bollywood is Hollywood?
The court case against the producers of Knock Out forces us to go back to an earlier post:  Film Re-Makes, August 2010.  Should producers be under a legal obligation to warn us if a film is not original?  If Bollywood re-cycles Hollywood movies, what is the objection to the term ‘Bollywood’? People like Amitabh Bachchan don’t want to hear it.  They say the industry is not Bollywood. 

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the Novel.

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