July 9 2014
We talk to a star from one of the best films in this year’s London Indian Film Festival and the proud focus of ‘www.asianculturevulture.com presents…’
MUCH of the time when we’re on the internet, we’re looking for a connection to something or sometimes, perhaps a little more crucially…to someone.
And perhaps that is no more vital than in the field of love and romance – and the internet and its allied technology is supposed to have made that a lot easier.
When it comes off, as it does in the US film “Hank and Asha”, which has its European premiere on the second night of the London Indian Festival on Friday (July 11), it is a thing of beauty and wonder.
Don’t take our word for it – the film has won a clutch of prizes in North America, most notably the audience award for best narrative feature at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival, one of the US’s biggest indie film gatherings.
And in the UK, “Time Out” Film chose it as the pick of all the films showing in this year’s fifth edition of the London Indian Film Festival (July 10-17).
It’s a charming piece of work that shows how two people, Hank and Asha, living in different cities, New York and Prague, can connect through modern technology.
A funny, touching, and very believable ‘romance’, it doesn’t simply revolve around whether their relationship remains only at the virtual level. That is just one of this film’s several intriguing plot lines.
There is tension too – love does not always run smoothly, we all know, and it’s one of the undoubted strengths of the film that it’s not simply like having a bag of sugar poured over you.
Perhaps, women will recognise the awkwardness of a suitor’s grand gesture…and these characters are rich and rooted in reality.
Speaking to us from her home in New York, the female star, Mahira Kakkar told us: “They (the filmmakers, James E Duff and wife Julia Morrison) were not exoticising her or making her seem Other – or anything less than a full-blooded human being.”
Indian-born Kakkar has appeared in US TV shows, “Law and Order”, “The Big C” and “Blue Bloods” and left Kolkata to take up a place at Julliard, one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive drama schools.
She told www.asianculturevulture.com she had little idea the film was going to be showered with critical accolades and so much love and affection from audiences.
“I didn’t. I just knew that it was interesting and I was enjoying it. I had just closed a show and I played Viola in ‘Twelfth Night’ and flew out to Prague pretty much the next day and it was a pretty intense schedule.
“My head was just in it and I was not thinking about the future.
“Film is so weird – you do your part and someone else does other stuff and you never know what it’s going to look like,” she confessed.
Her portrayal of Asha is wonderful. The Indian film student based in Prague is shown in all her innocence and gentle longings and you cannot fail to be won over by her.
Equally, Hank played by Andrew Pastides is a cool, smart New Yorker who isn’t too hip or knowing or cynical, (that’s because maybe he’s a migrant of sorts too) and has enjoyed some modest success with a documentary film that Asha saw in Prague during a film festival there.
His day job as a fairly menial mobile production assistant on a New York reality TV show keeps him grounded and likeable.
The film often looks like a love letter, not only between two people, but to both cities, Prague and New York, and the pair share a chemistry that works even though for the most part they simply post ‘selfie’ videos to each other.
As filmmakers (in the film) they are perhaps too self-conscious and fussy to hit Skype and the video diary has much richer possibilities, as we see.
Mahira had never met Andrew but the easy rapport they strike and the privileged access we get (as voyeurs) appears wholly natural, exciting and heady. Just like romance really can be.
“I hadn’t met him (Pastides). I knew of him and we had friends in common that was helpful,” said Kakkar.
When she saw the film for the first time, she still wasn’t wholly convinced the two had hit cinematic gold as a romantic partnership.
“It’s strange because as actors we can be very self-critical. I loved what my co-star was doing but I thought, what am I doing?”
Just fine, we would say. Director James E Duff and his wife, co-producer, co-writer and editor, Julia, obviously assembled a group of like-minded people who prospered in the environment and the world they created.
“I really liked the filmmakers,” said Kakkar. “I thought they had written the character really delicately and beautifully and they let a lot of stuff up to me as an actor and lot of it was improv.
“The outline of the scenes were given to me – and I’m only speaking about my experience, and the director said: ‘Ok, think about what you might say in this situation and here are some of the salient points and make sure you include those’.
“He was great, he often let me do as much as 10 different takes and they’re really different takes of the same scene,” revealed Kakkar.
It’s not a long movie – at 73 minutes, in some ways, it’s a little short, because you’re having such a good time watching these two very likeable people joke around and fall for each other.
For Kakkar, life has moved on – she’s now rehearsing for the critically acclaimed and smash Broadway theatre production of “Vanya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike”.
First produced in 2012 and written by Christopher Durang it played to packed houses on Broadway last year, garnering a Tony for best play and featured David Hyde Pierce (Niles from “Fraiser”) and film star Siogourney Weaver, and is a contemporary, funny ‘absurdist-comedy’ drama essentially inspired by Chekov.
Kakkar plays Cassandra, another significant character.
“It’s very popular here. It’s about people whose lives are stuck and it’s about how they can go about getting them unstuck,” she chuckled.
But back to “Hank and Asha” finally – does she know another wave of admiration, affection and love is going to hit her from these shores after Friday?
“I am so happy that the film has done well, it really feels like a team effort and the team has made something beautiful and that’s always great when you are part of something like that, it’s very gratifying.”
*www.asianculturevulture.com proudly presents the European premiere of ‘Hank and Asha’ at the ICA on Friday, July 11 at 6.30pm in partnership with the London Indian Film Festival.
There will be a Q&A with Julia Morrison, the film’s editor and co-writer and co-producer after the screening of the film and moderated by Sailesh Ram, founder and editor of www.asianculturevulture.com on both Friday and Saturday.
London Indian Film Festival brand ambassadors and BBC London 94.9FM presenters Sunny & Shay will be introducing the Q&A on Friday.
For ticket info at the ICA and other London Indian Film Festival screenings there, please see http://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/seasons/london-indian-film-festival-2014
The film also shows on July 12 at Cineworld Wembley 8pm and on July 13 at Cineworld O2. For tickets please see here.
For more information and the full programme at the London Indian Film Festival (July 10-17). Click here.