AIFF: “Hank and Asha” is a Twist on Classic Romantic Comedies

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There are several “boy meets girl” films showing at the Ashland Independent Film Festival this weekend. It is a simple, classic tale, and one that pleases a wide audience. However, few of them have as much depth as Hank and Asha.

A series of video logs between the titular characters make up the entirety of the film. Hank is a young filmmaker and van driver for a reality show in New York.  Asha is an Indian woman studying film in Prague. When Asha sees Hank’s film, she sends him a video response regarding her thoughts on the film. Hank responds in a similar video format, and this continues for the rest of the film.

The setting and form of cinematography are simple and extremely limited. But director James E. Duff works them masterfully. Hank and Asha is a richly detailed film that may require a few sittings to catch all the details.

One of the film’s most prevalent themes is of human connection. The film’s opening credits state the complexity of how human interactions, whether momentary or lifelong, can have such a great impact. Interestingly enough, this very idea is what leads to Hank and Asha’s correspondence.

Studies of cultural communication will also delight in the film. Hank and Asha successfully navigates the differences in understanding across cultures. When Asha tells Hank how common arranged marriages are in her society, Hank responds, ” I didn’t know that people still did that,”.  Additionally, a conflict occurs between the characters when they confront an issue in different ways, from an individualistic  mindset and from a collectivist mindset.

Some of the film’s best commentary comes from its realization of the digital age, and how technology’s changed the way people communicate. An excellent line on this piece occurs when plans suddenly change for Hank. “It’s hard to imagine a time before cell phones, right?” says Hank.  “What’d people do? Make plans and keep them?”.

This is all tied together with excellent performances by Mahira Kakkar and Andrew Pastides. Their compelling relationship, despite never being in the same room on-screen, makes the film worthwhile.