Punching At The Sun

With the Sundance film festival starting soon, DutchDesi tells us about the South Asian presence over there:

"Punching at the Sun," directed and written by Tanuj Chopra -- In the aftermath of 9/11 and his older brother's murder, a fiery South Asian teen struggles to find a path between rage and redemption on the streets of Elmhurst, Queens.

"Man Push Cart," directed and written by Ramin Bahrani -- The story of a former Pakistani rock star who now sells coffee and donuts from his push cart on the streets of Manhattan.

"I is for India" directed and written by Sandhya Suri -- A tale of migration and belonging, told primarily through Super 8 films and audio letters sent between India and England over a period of 40 years.

Punching at the Sun is apparently the first second generation desi feature film (note the qualifiers) to be picked for Sundance. In a rollicking interview with Rediff, director Tanuj Chandra, a film student at Columbia, tells more:

How did you start on this film?

I met a lot of very talented, unique teenagers with great stories to tell, at SAYA! A lot of these teens wouldn't get a shot to act in Bollywood or mainstream cinema – not immediately though. But, to me, they represented a story I wanted to tell. I met one kid in particular that I saw had enormous talent, Misu Khan, who would eventually act in my film.


And why should a desi see it at all?

The film was made for desis. The question really is why shouldn't desis go see it? Because they don't want to see themselves on screen? Because they are happy with the way they are portrayed on TV and in Hollywood? Because they like Apu on The Simpsons? Because they are broke? These are all good reasons for desis not to see Punching at the Sun.

Why is showing the film at Sundance important?

I don't think there has been a second-generation desi feature film ever at Sundance, so it's another glass ceiling we've broken. It's important that our experience is given credibility at top festivals like Sundance. It's progress and I hope to see many more over the years.

What was your reaction when you heard your film had been accepted?

I got drunk, went to my high school reunion and ran my mouth off at non-desis the whole night.

If you were to get an offer to make an out and out commercial film in Hollywood some day, would you accept?

Hell yes. I have to pay back student loans. Does anybody have a gig out there for a desi in LA - LA land? Harold and Kumar Go to Iraq? Holla Back!

The volatile aftermath of 9/11 in NYC has led to a lot of New York based South Asian filmmakers and writers finding their voices. In that context, Punching at the Sun reminded me of Rehana Mirza's play Barriers:

"Barriers" uncovers the silent story of the Muslim families who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks. However, these stories were often overlooked as many Muslim families witnessed their "missing" fliers marred with atrocious vandalism. Asian American Theater Company found Rehana Mirza's script poignantly opened up this untold story and explored the human experiences behind this tragedy," says Sean Lim, Managing Artistic Director of the Asian American Theater Company.

Barriers, which we saw in San Francisco, is a flawed yet powerful work. But, along with Punching At The Sky, it also illustrates the fact that second generation desis are moving on to second generation issues. As Rehana Mirza points out in a Rediff interview for her film Fillum Star: The Peter Patel Story:

Don't you think there have been too many films on desi life in America in the last four years?

I don't think there is a limit [for such films]. Besides, Fillum Star: The Peter Patel Story is different from the films made in the US and Canada.

And why is that?

Many of those films, like American Desi, dealt with identity issues. Some of us are moving beyond that. We are making films now, for example, about the struggle [for meaning] in our communities and in the world at large.

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- January 14, 2006 10:46 AM // Diaspora , Film