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Hank and Asha

Film Five Stars
By chance this was the first film I saw at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2014 as I received it in a batch of review DVDs and just happened to pick this one first. Lucky for me I chose it.

The blurb for the film didn't sell me on the idea when I was selecting the titles to see this year, what did was how it would work on screen, and if indeed it would. The film would comprise of video messages made between two people and that intrigued me, the idea that a film could be made where a relationship could form between two characters in this way was interesting, could it be done? I didn't really think it could be pulled off, and I was far from believing that it could be done well.

How wrong I was because Hank and Asha turned out to be really enjoyable and delivered much more than I had expected.

Plot.pngHankandAsha.jpgAsha is an Indian film student living and studying in Prague. Attending a film festival she watches and enjoys a film where the director misses a Q&A; afterwards. Interested in asking some questions about the film she finds out his contact details and sends him a video message asking what she wanted to at the missing Q&A.; He excitedly responds and soon a correspondence begins that draws the two of them far closer to each other than either of them had first expected.

TheFilm.pngWhile the film had sounded pleasant enough from the blurb I really couldn't see it winning me over. At best I thought it would be a wishy-washy romantic story that I might enjoy watching, at worst it would be a wishy-washy romantic story that didn't convince me of anything including the attempt to inject the modern angle of video messaging into the worn story of a distance relationship.

Yet my interest was piqued at the idea of the story and how it would work. How could the writer and director convince us that these two characters could begin corresponding and genuinely fall in love with each other? More than that, how could they hold the audience's attention for the length of the film without deviating from the stilted back and forth of a conversation through video messaging?

I have to admit I was shocked by the answers, and the surprises came early on.

The first big surprise I had was at how quickly the two leads caught my attention, how quickly I came to believe them and actually like their characters. It was all too easy, even with the American character who played to type at some points revealing that he had no idea of what was happening in the real world outside of America - it seemed a typically isolated comment that you'd expect from such a character but it works and it fits well. Even this character caught my attention and won me over.

The messages between the two are very well conceived and made. The hand-held, naturally shot moments don't feel overly rehearsed, productionised (I know that isn't a word but it works) and edited, and since these shots make up the entirety of the film, it's a huge win with the audience.

There are some very clever ways that the messages are kept interesting and fresh, not just because both characters are amateur film-makers, but because the focus has been kept on the characters desire to make the other feel interested and engaged in their own message. This translates well through to the audience and has the exact same effect on them. It's as though the writers, directors and actors realised that this was where the concentration of the film had to lie in order to make it most appealing to the audience - don't necessarily make something to engage the audience but understand what the character would do to make the message appealing to the other character, this also makes you believe more in what they are saying and feeling.

No matter what these characters said or did, if these messages didn't feel believable then the entire film would fail, and they do feel very believable.

That is bolstered by the excellent script that makes each message feel like it's a natural progression from the previous, and not just in terms of dialogue, but also for the relationship growing between the characters. This has to progress but not out of pace with or the context of the messages. We have to see them slowly falling for each other, we have to see the moments of questioning, of fantasy and desire, we have to be able to see a genuine relationship developing through these messages, and we do. You can not only see the relationship building but you can also feel it and identify with it. It's beautifully written by someone who probably has experienced falling in love in a similar way.

The final piece of the puzzle that makes it all work so well with the audience are the performances. Andrew Pastides and Mahira Kakkar are very good and portray their characters very naturally. I think Kakkar is perhaps the actor that comes across the best as she gives such a subtle and natural performance delivering so much in the moments between her lines.

There is a lot delivered in the quiet and more visual moments for both these performances, and some of these quiet scenes feel just as intimate as when the characters are explaining something personal to the screen, the other character, and the audience.

I was totally convinced by the character of Asha and of Kakkar's performance. More than convinced but engrossed and emotionally committed. When the emotion came you could feel it as though it was being said to you and I have to commend the writers for not over explaining to the audience in some key moments, and instead leaving us hanging with unfinished sentences or hesitant looks to camera. It's another strong aspect of the film that makes the characters so believable and accessible. Much of this film is in the moments between.

I also loved the way the story progressed and the issues that it raised. Far from being a light and fluffy story it has two cultures coming together and in a small part clashing. What's also great about the script is that this isn't overly laid onto the audience and it is all kept in the context of the conversation between them.

The more serious aspects of the story slide into the messages as naturally as the rest of the script and as they build to become an issue between them it becomes another easily recognisable aspect of the story - well it did for me anyway, what that says about some of my past relationships I don't want to consider. The timing and editing of the messages sent back and forth during the more serious parts of the story are excellent and help carry the story forward.

It also delivers a rather bittersweet ending which can be said to be equal parts romantic fare and the harder knocks of reality. However this isn't really about where the characters get to, this is about how they get there and being on that journey with them.

Overall.pngHank and Asha is excellently scripted and brought to the screen. There is no doubting the characters and their story of falling for each other through the video messaging, from the script, performances, direction and editing we believe it. Every aspect of the film has been carried out in order to keep focus on the characters and the believability of their relationship, and it works wonderfully. I fell for the characters and the idea of their relationship very early on in the film and I never fell out of love with them.

Andrew Pastides and Mahira Kakkar give great performances but it's Kakkar who really does capture your heart. Her moments of hesitancy and her unspoken moments are powerful and help convey her emotions as well as draw you into the characters. It's amazing just how easily I fell for them and wanted to stay with them and find out more.

The ending is good too and doesn't let up from that feeling of believability. I really don't think any other ending would have felt as right for the characters and their situation. The film is as recognisable and relatable as it is believable, video messaging or not.

This is a heart-warming and touching tale that will grab hold of the romantic in you, or grab hold of those romantic memories from your past and wrap its arms around them. You'll feel drawn to the characters, connected with them, and believe them throughout, and through clever scripting and direction these natural performances will pull you right into the middle of their relationship.

I loved Hank and Asha, and if you give it a go you will too.

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