Hank and Asha is a romance that is one step ahead of You’ve Got Mail, while holding back slightly from watching two people chat via Skype. Our two titular characters “meet cute” via an exchange of video messages. In fact the entire film is each character talking to the other, at the camera. But the question is, as we can see them falling for each other, will they ever meet?
Asha (Mahira Kakkar) is a pretty young Indian woman who is abroad in Prague in film school. She sees an intriguing documentary film at a festival, and decides to send a video message to the director who was unable to attend. To her surprise, the director Hank (Andrew Pastides) writes back… or should I say “face mails” back? To her surprise, this American in New York City who responded to her message is young and handsome, and, well, you can see where this is going.
By having both of the characters working/learning in the film industry, the movie gets away with edits in the messages. For instance, Asha “takes” Hank to her favorite movie theater. She sits off in a seat, smiling, looking at the ceiling, and her message cuts to a view of the ceiling, then back to her. If there wasn’t this convenient cinematic loophole, the characters would simply be staring into and talking at the camera, with wobbly hand-held images as they “showed” each other around.
I liked the settings, and I liked the fact that the storyline acknowledges character and cultural differences that might prove to be stumbling blocks. For instance, Asha gets flirty, recording one message in bed, then the next time she looks awkward, “Was that too much?” (as I was thinking during her first message, “Girl, that is too much!”). Or Hank, who admits previous romantic bumblings, has some well-meaning romantic gestures that fall flat and make Asha angry at the implications (what would others think?). When Hank and Asha explores these topics, it is intriguing and fresh.
But otherwise, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a series of video selfies between two people trying to impress each other by trying to act casual. Asha mugs a lot at the camera, with faux coy/shy looks. I have expected her to purse her lips into the ubiquitous duck-face of selfies. Hank, on the other hand, does the hipster-charmer technique: quirky, but oh-so-conscious while presenting his quirks, his style, his disheveled-ness, his openness to… trying new food and saying over and over how much he loves New York. In that sense, I wanted to tell Hank and Asha to get a private, virtual video room and see how long they could sustain an actual conversation. My guess about half the time it takes to watch the film.