This year’s romantic comedies have nothing on Hank and Asha. The film gives us a new take on a topic that’s been attempted several times before: long-distance relationships. The film is genuinely funny, doesn’t try too hard, and isn’t fantastical with its topic. First-time director James E. Duff gets it right in an age where long-distance and online relationships are all the rage in a highly connected world.
Asha (Mahira Kakkar) is an Indian girl studying film abroad in Prague. At a film festival, she sees a documentary that moves her and is disappointed when the director of the film, Hank (Andrew Pastides), isn’t there to talk about it. In order to ask a question about the inspiring film, Asha tracks down his information and sends him a video message. Hank is living in New York and responds in kind. Through video messages, they begin a heartfelt relationship that connects them to each other though they never meet face-to-face.
They’re both lonely and disconnected from the physical world, but come to learn a lot about each other through questions and funny messages they leave for each other. Certain complications arise that throw a wrench in their relationship and force them to look at things a little more realistically.
This film is by far one of the most heartfelt films of the year. It’s cute and funny, warm and sad. The performances, though the two actors are never in the same scene, are fantastic and extremely layered. You’ll feel almost as if you were receiving messages from a friend abroad. The movie breaks racial barriers too and doesn’t focus on the fact that it’s doing so, which is a refreshing break from the films that make you hyper-aware of it.
The film is shot entirely through video messages between the characters. In this aspect, it’s very original. We get to see two different worlds entirely through messages left in different time zones. The movie explores the loneliness of living in a new place and the struggles of maintaining human contact through online means. Through each other they learn and experience new things. Hank and Asha get to know each other better than some people do in the real world and that is one of the film’s strengths.
Mahira Kakkar as Asha is the perfect choice. She’s cute and awkwardly funny in a way that’s entirely real. Besides being funny, Kakkar brings warmth to her scenes and can make you laugh and extremely sad depending on what the situation calls for. She’ll have you rooting for Kakkar. And funny as it is to say, seeing as how the leads never appear onscreen together, but they have pretty great chemistry in reaction to each other’s messages.
Andrew Pastides is the average guy. He’s not stereotypically suave and doesn’t say charming things because he has ulterior motives. He’s sweet and funny. He acts like a lot of guys actually act and it comes off as very realistic and true. His frustrated ranting is both entertaining and highly saddening in context with his and Asha’s relationship struggles. He and Kakkar both work so well talking to only a camera.
Hank and Asha is easily one of the best films at the Virginia Film Festival this year. It embraces the online world in a comedic fashion, but brings it back down to Earth with its poignant realism. It’s heartwarming and very lovable in a way a lot of romantic comedies can only dream of being, the cast perfect, and the story almost bittersweet. It’s really a story for anyone who’s ever struggled to be connected to someone in a world that’s highly plugged in to cyberspace, yet somehow disconnected. Sweet, fun, and realistic.