Hank and Asha: Slamdance Film Festival

If Before Sunrise were made in today’s technologically savvy age, it would look a lot like Hank and Asha.

Asha (Mahira Kakkar), Indian but going to film school in Prague, contacts Hank (Andrew Pastides) after seeing his movie play at a festival — only, he lives in New York. The two start a pen-pal sort of correspondence through short videos, gradually turning their friendship into more — all without meeting face-to-face.

Pastides is extremely charming as Hank. As Asha falls for him, so do we. One day, he shows her around his “office,” i.e., his car, where he sits between doing production assistant errands for a television show, his video to Asha even getting interrupted by coffee requests over his walkie-talkie. On another video, Hank takes Asha out to dinner (leaving a chair, place setting, and meal at the table for her, of course). Asha reciprocates, taking virtual Hank Austrian beer-tasting with her one night, and showing him around her apartment the next (making him the first person to see her place, which sends such a poignant/sad/fascinating message in this day and age).

As the two communicate more and more, Hank suggests they meet. Asha would like to, but… her arranged marriage is approaching. (You will have to see the movie to find out what happens next!)

If you are a fan of romantic comedies, or just want a dose of romance in your life, Hank and Asha is a must-see.

Whether or not you are a romantic-at-heart, the movie will give you hope. And that’s what each of us yearns for or has yearned for, right? In matters of love, and in general.

In the Q&A after the film, husband-and-wife writing team, James E. Duff and Julia Morrison, were on hand to discuss Hank and Asha. Duff directed the movie, while Morrison edited it.

On where they got the idea for the film, Duff said, “In the past, both of us have relied on letter-writing, to kind of feel connected with people, express ourselves, and… that anticipation of getting letters was just so exciting. And we thought, you know, what does that look like in the 21st-century digital age?”

And it gets better. Hank and Asha is loosely based on a true story. A friend of Duff and Morrison’s courted his now-wife through videos he sent her from the road. And that friend showed the videos to Duff and Morrison for inspiration.

Amazingly, Duff shot the scenes with Kakkar in Prague first, then went to New York to shoot Pastides’ scenes. He said he shot for the emotion of each scene with Kakkar, since she had no contact with Pastides. Once in New York, Duff showed Pastides some of Kakkar’s scenes. “It’s a testament to… Jim’s direction and Julia’s editing that we seem to be talking to each other… I met her (Kakkar) on the last day of shooting,” Pastides said.

As for the theme of the film, Duff said, “We were hoping for hope… And, you know, it’s a love story, and we hope it inspired people to take risks… You meet the person on the subway, you make eye contact, but you never actually talk to them. And Asha took a risk.”

At Slamdance, Hank and Asha won the Audience Award for Feature Narrative.