By Chad Nance
There is no form in the cinematic universe that I loathe more than the romantic comedy. From the meet cute, to the misunderstanding that leads to a tearful breakup, to the inevitable reunion- romantic comedies make me want to puke… then came Hank and Asha. I absolutely love this film.
James E. Duff’s Hank and Asha is a warm, heartfelt exploration of 21st century romance with all of the stupid ripped out. Duff, his co-writer Julia Morrison and his cast have managed to create something wholly original that still operates within the framework of the romantic comedy. Beautiful to look at, emotionally engaging and entertaining from start to finish, Hank and Asha is simply one of the most enjoyable films screening at this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival.
One major factor in Hank and Asha’s success are the two leads. UNCSA alum Andrew Pastide’s Hank is the kind of guy you’d like to have a drink with and discuss the films of Tom Laughlin or Errol Morris. His integrity and humor are genuine and instantly place you firmly on his side from his first appearance in the film. Mahira Kakkar as Asha is, in a word, adorable. Her performance is truthful, fleshed out and filled with a true joy that is never “bubbly” or vapid, but comes from a sincere depth and strength of character.
One of the innovations in Hank and Asha which set it apart from every other romantic comedy is its central conceit. Asha and Hank communicate with one another over the internet. Not by video chatting, but by creating small documentary-style films for one another about their lives. Hank is a former film student working as a PA on a television show in New York City and Asha is a film student going to university in Prague. Sex is almost completely removed from the equation, leaving only the emotional reasons people fall in love. Their relationship begins instantly on a footing of mutual respect and admiration which is also fairly original in a romantic film in the 21st century. There is no awkward online coupling or anything else that would border on the humiliating or degrading. What we are left with is two people who have a cinematic and visual conversation with one another. The way the two communicate via their video messages is not only them reacting to each other, but because both are filmmakers they communicate by truly showing the other person how the world looks through their eyes.
Duff and Morrison do not simply make this device a gimmick, however. The way the video messages themselves are shot becomes part of the cinematic language that lets the audience get to know these two remarkable people because they show one another the world through their own unique perspectives.
Hank’s messages feel like a young guy living in New York City. The colors are the muted grays, browns, blacks and blues of urban America. Hank likes to do walk-and-talks next to graffiti-painted brick walls and sit next to the dark water of the Hudson.
Asha’s messages, like the films and imagery of her native India, are filled with sumptuous, bright colors along with gold, deep reds and expansive vistas of old Europe. When Hank shoots in a bar it is the dark woods and blown out windows of a street-level pub. Asha responds from a bar in Prague that feels warm and seems to glow as if it were a frame from a Wes Anderson film.
What keeps both characters grounded and never allows them to become precious is their openness with one another and a firm grounding in their two distinct cultures. Hank is a typical American kid who hails from Concord, North Carolina and struggles with his desire to live a life of artistic pursuits rather than work in his old man’s successful business. Asha is a beautiful and curious young woman from Calcutta, India who has her own struggles with her parents and her culture. Her struggle is not played as trite or exotic, however. Mahira Kakkar imbues Asha with a distinct dignity and grace that is never clichéd and is always compelling.
To reveal any of the plot would be to ruin much of the films’ surprise and charm. Rather than do that, this reviewer would simply like to recommend this film to anyone who gets the opportunity to watch it. I would also suggest that you take someone who you love with you to the screening. This most human romantic comedy will, without a doubt, touch you both and watching it everyone will remember exactly how people fall in love with one another… and why.
You can find showtimes and tickets for this and other films showing at the 2014 RiverRun International Film Festival HERE.