Born and raised in India, Asha (Marhira Kakkar) is a twentysomething studying film in Prague. Seeing a documentary she likes very much, this ebullient young woman sends the New York filmmaker a video message about her admiration for his film. He hadn't been able to attend the discussion of it at the screening.
Hank (Andrew Pastides), who's now working as a production assistant for a New York reality TV show, is gratified by Asha's tribute to his documentary and also feels an immediate connection to this pretty Indian woman whose enthusiasm is something very unusual and precious. He replies with his own video message.
It is interesting that neither Asha nor Hank has any desire to communicate with each other via email, telephone, or Skype. We watch as their relationship slowly unspools with each video message. They move from shared visual portraits of the cities in which they live to tours of their apartments. Besides their love of film, Asha and Hank share a mutual love for Paris. He asks her to meet him there so they can experience some real time together face-to-face.
This fresh and heartfelt film is directed by James E. Duff based on a screenplay he co-wrote with his spouse and co-producer Julia Morrison. Hank and Asha was Winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2013 Slamdance Festival. There are some wonderful scenes when Asha musters the confidence to flirt with Hank and a very hilarious sequence when he does a wild dance to Hindi film music for her pleasure and entertainment. They also share pretend dates together in a restaurant in New York City and in a picnic setup in a Prague park.
But all romances as they proceed must deal with the impact that birth families have upon our lives and character development. Hank and Asha's families are as different as night and day. He is feeling pressured by his domineering mother to return to North Carolina and take over the family business. And Asha's parents have other plans for her future after film school.
Hank and Asha offers a very creative take on modern romance and the yearning of lonely and isolated twentysomethings for an intimate relationship.
Hank and Asha reach out to each other through videos they create themselves as devotees of film. Their communications with each other proceed through familiar stages and there are several dramatic surprises along the way. While watching their relationship progress we thought of the stages that the couple in Before Sunrise go through together and continue with in Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
But even more of a lark is to compare Hank and Asha to 84 Charing Cross Road about an affair of the heart and the head between a man in London and a woman in New York City who shared a 20-year correspondence via letters. This charming film vividly conveys the magical ways that friendship can open up new worlds and meaning.
The same can be said for The Lunchbox, an elegant and emotionally affecting drama written and directed by Ritesh Batra. It is the story of an unusual friendship between two lonely strangers that results from a misdelivered lunchbox. They, too like the characters in 84 Charing Cross Road make the most of writing notes to each other.
While many youth are ready, willing, and able to put videos, email, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter in service of their intimate relationships, there are critics such as Sherry Turkle who in her book Alone Together alerts readers to the dangers of any technology that "proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies."