That “Punching at the Sun’s” immigrant characters are South Asian isn’t enough of a riff on the anguished, inner-city coming-of-age story to offer anything new, but tyro helmer Tanuj Chopra’s fresh style and a cast of brash actors straight out of Gotham could grab the attention of young urban auds given half a chance.
Boldly assertive about its ethnic characters (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan), “Punching at the Sun” has at its center angry young man Mameet (the charismatic Misu Khan), who has long lived in the shadow of his basketball legend brother, Sanjay (Mohammad Mirza).When Sanjay is killed during a robbery at the family store, Mameet’s profound grief and need to define himself make him a character of unusual complexity, especially in a story that can’t help but hew close to the hoary conventions of teenage angst.Mameet’s consternation is often self defeating. His coach benches him, his relations with his family deteriorate and the appearance of a gun pushes matters to more dangerous heights.
Production values are first rate, and Khan is surrounded by a cast of distinct and lively actors: Taran Singh and Kazi Rahman, who play Mameet’s pals Ritesh and Parnav, provide often hilarious counterpoint to Mameet’s somber air, and Nina Edmonds, as Mameet’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Shawni, is sexy, self-aware and natural. Also first-rate is Ferdusy Dia as Mameet’s wild sister, whom he tries to rein in.
Curiously, the South Asian immigrant street culture created by Chopra and co-writer Hart Eddy feels African-American down to its hip-hop accompaniment. But even if its culture-proud characters are ironically assimilating, “Punching at the Sun” is a display of talents that are distinctive, original and iconoclastic.