Now live on MUBI India, independent filmmaker Kirnay Bhatt’s savage directorial debut deserves a medal
Last Updated: 02.11 AM, Jun 08, 2022
STORY: Lesbians Kirnay and Kaveri hope to someday realise their dreams and live a life together in peace and happiness. But before that, they’ll have to reclaim their space in a conservative society.
REVIEW: “Kirnay very strong in ring. But outside, she is scared for telling mother, she love me” - these words pretty much conjure up the tone of independent filmmaker Kirnay Bhatt’s savage directorial debut, Keep Punching. Within the runtime of 26 minutes, the film smashes patriarchy and homophobia at one blow. This is the story of two pahadi girls - Kirnay (Samridhi Dewan) and Kaveri (Astha Arora) - who live in a small rural community in Manali. They are in love with each other, and are well aware of the consequences they will have to face in life if they are to continue with their same-sex relationship.
But there is another problem. Kirnay dreams of becoming a national boxing champion, and she is training hard for it. After years of dedication and practice, she even gets selected for a national-level competition. But her mother - who has raised her as a single parent - decides that it’s time for her to get married. Obviously, “no decent family in the community would want a boxer bahu in their house”, so her mother’s strong advice to her is to give up her ‘sports’ dreams and concentrate on learning household chores instead.
Kirnay wants to put her foot down and tell her mother that she wants to pursue her goals, come what may and even declare her love for Kaveri, but ends up doing neither. Call it her cowardice or simply the fear that her mother will not be able to take it, she keeps putting it off. Thus, despite being a fierce boxer in the ring, she constantly fails to gather the strength to battle her own dilemma in real life. Kaveri, on the other hand, is far more gritty than Kirnay, so much so that she can even pick a fight with someone who questions the integrity of their relationship. Things take an ugly turn when Manoj (Kunj Anand) enters the plot. A prospective groom for Kirnay and a boxer himself, he wants her to quickly give up her goal and get married to him.
Amid the serenity of rolling mountains and cosy kath-khuni homes, director Kirnay has built a fierce narrative of resistance, power and the warmth of queer love. Being showcased as one of MUBI India’s specially curated films revolving around the LGBTQIA+ community for Pride Month, Keep Punching is nuanced and focussed on telling a story rather than just concentrating on gay love. The storyline is refreshing, distinct and poignant. There are moments in the film when you feel that you can almost predict the next move, but the sequence that follows actually catches you by surprise. The narrative also reiterates the fact that our silence should not be taken for weakness or for that matter ignorance.
VERDICT: Keep Punching isn’t your regular take on conservative society. The film is every bit invigorating and bold, but subtle too. The tenderness, support and commitment shown in the relationship between Kirnay and Kaveri is both inspiring and intense. You’ll love the tattoo scene and also the sequence in which they get into a fist fight with the boys. A new-age film on queer love, this short deserves a medal!
*Reema Gowalla is an arts and culture journalist, who mostly writes about theatre and independent cinema, and sometimes also delves into culinary heritage.